Some movies grab you at the start and then just sort of flatten out, unable to continue with the momentum of the opening. Those movies can be good, but can also leave you wanting. Then there are other movies, movies which grab you and—pardon the cliché—never let go. Those movies are the great ones, the ones that deserve recognition. Already the winner of a number of awards this season (and lacking an Academy Award nomination for Director which it undoubtedly deserves), 2012's Argo is one of this second set of films.
Taking place in late 1979 and early 1980, Argo is the based-on-a-true story of the rescue of six members of the U.S. Consulate in Iran. The film opens by offering up background on the situation and regularly intersperses actual news reports from the time with the (semi) fictionalized scenes to ratchet up the realism quotient. Argo may go a little over-the-top, and into the realm of apparent fiction, during the final escape scene, but before that it is simply stupendous.
The film stars Ben Affleck, who also directed the movie, as Tony Mendez, a CIA exfiltration expert who is tasked with getting the sis escapees out of the Canadian ambassador's home where they are currently hiding from Iranian revolutionaries. Mendez comes up with the utterly ridiculous notion of pretending that he, along with the house guests, are in Iran scouting locations for a science fiction movie, Argo. To this end he enlists a semi-regular CIA contact in Hollywood, John Chambers (John Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Together, they set up a fake production company and convince everyone, including Hollywood, that the fake movie is real.
One of the things that truly impresses about the film is that while it portrays the revolutionaries in Iran as scary, fanatical, and over the top, it also makes it quite clear that the United States is, at least in part, at fault for the ascendancy of Ayatollah Khomeini by removing the democratically elected leader and replacing him with a dictator. While unquestionably Mendez is the hero of the piece, blame for the house guests ending up in their predicament abounds. The Canadians are the only country in the film who escape said blame, and they do so because they are only truly depicted in the form of the Ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), and his wife, Pat (Page Leong), who stick their neck out by allowing the consulate escapees to stay with them. Put another way, individuals in the film are triumphant and heroic, governments far less so.