The CIA’s Director turned to Tony Mendoza a exfiltration specialist who had the extraordinary idea of creating a fake movie project that would serve as a cover story to get the trapped staff safely out of the country. When forced to defend his plan to the Secretary of State himself to get final clearance for the ‘Hollywood Project’, Mendoza agreed that it all seemed like a really ludicrous idea, but it was, he assured the Secretary, the best of all the bad ideas that the Intelligence experts could come up with. And with that, the CIA entered the movie business.
To make the operation seem legit, Mendoza contacted an old friend who was a real Make Up/Prosthetics Artist, who in turn linked him to an award-winning Producer who came on board to give credibility to the movie that they would pretend to be scouting for locations in Tehran for. They found a Sci-fi Script that could work as it was set in a middle-eastern terrain, and then they created film resumes and jobs for each of the six staff. Then complete with brand new Canadian passports, Mendoza flew off to Iran to perform the seemingly impossible task of whisking them away right under the militants nose.
The trapped officials who had been keeping up with the news of the escalating violence and the brutal street executions of anyone who the Regime suspected of being against, were so nervous of Mendoza’s plans, that several of then turned him down flat. It however soon seem clear to them that they had no choice but to chance their arm and take the risk of being caught and tortured to death, because they also knew that their hiding place would soon be discovered.
In this wonderfully totally tense nail-biting thriller nothing is ever going to really go to plan. Even when Mendoza finally persuades all six that they should trust him, his Director tells him that The White House has pulled the plug and that he must cease the covert operation. But does he, and if so, will he pull it off? Trust me you will not want to know until it happens and you are on the edge on your seat in the movie theater with white knuckles grasping the arm rests! Its an exhilarating ride and the telling of this story is as well executed as the actual operation itself.
This is Ben Affleck’s movie through and through and he is proving to be an outstanding Director … first ‘Gone Baby Gone’, then ‘The Town’, and now this rather stunning political thriller. Affleck also stars as Mendoza but its a very cool understated performance that I suppose one would expect from a professional CIA Operative in the field. He surrounds himself with a great cast, but the two that shine out are the irrepressible John Goodman as the jovial Make Up Artist, and the hilarious deadpan Alan Arkin as the Producer who provide the unexpected, but very necessary, humor to the story.
In filming this story based on a true life incident Affleck captures not just the authentic look of Iran (its actual filmed in Turkey) but the real feel of the period itself. Mendoza’s covert action was kept secret way past the ‘big story’ of the day …… the release of all the Embassy staff after a whopping 444 days in captivity which had (almost) the whole world celebrating ….and all the unknown factors about what actual happen a complete surprise until the final credits role.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Argo doesn’t get a Best Picture Nomination at the Academy Awards. It is that good!
P.S. Months after I wrote this, it won 3 Oscars.