Is Argo that good? Yes and no. Affleck takes substantial liberties with the story of the bizarre rescue of six American hostages who were separated from the rest in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran, and all three of his films (the others are Gone Baby Gone and The Town) end melodramatically. Still, Argo is hugely entertaining, with a smart script and a deft sense of humor.
Affleck the actor (he probably should have cast someone less lackluster in the lead) plays Tony Mendez, a CIA agent at Langley and a specialist in “exfiltration.” He rejects several possible solutions to the problem of how to save six U.S. Embassy employees in Tehran who sneaked out the back when angry ayatollah-loving revolutionaries demanding the return of the U.S.-backed shah of Iran stormed the compound and took 52 Americans hostage. (The 52 eventually returned safely, more than a year later, by which time President Jimmy Carter was seen as hopelessly weak and Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in.)
The subgroup of six hid out in the home of the Canadian ambassador but couldn’t come up with a plausible reason to leave the country without being detected and arrested. Mendez, back in Virginia, thinks outside the box. Way outside the box. He suggests papers be forged to indicate that the six had been in the country for just a couple of days — and had arrived to scout locations for a schlocky Star Wars ripoff called Argo.
Affleck has a lot of fun with late-70s L.A., and he clearly is more interested in showbiz than in international politics. The Hollywood sign in the hills was crumbling and forgotten, and a makeup man (John Goodman) whose credits include a Planet of the Apes movie serves as an introduction to several cynical, wily, loveable characters including a caustic producer (Alan Arkin). Told that the CIA needs him for a mission involving “the worst place you can think of,” Goodman’s character replies, “Universal City.” As for Mendez’s cover story of being a small-time producer, Goodman says, “You want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything. You’ll fit right in.”