On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, taking 52 Americans hostage with hopes of exchanging them for the recently-deposed Shah. What ensued was a 444-day ordeal which would last long after the despised despot died in exile without standing trial.
While that drawn-out standoff continued to occupy the world's attention as front-page news, almost no one knew that a half-dozen Americans had managed to steal away unnoticed during the assault and taken refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). And the discovery of their whereabouts by the rabidly anti-Western, Khomeini regime would have undoubtedly triggered another international incident.
So, they surreptitiously contacted the CIA which assigned their rescue to Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), an exfiltration specialist with a perfect record of freeing captives from such perilous predicaments. Agent Mendez proceeded to hatch an attention-grabbing scheme that was the antithesis of the sort of clandestine operation one might expect of a spy.
His high-profile plan involved creating a cover for the stranded diplomats by making a movie that was actually nothing more than a CIA front. First, he enlisted the assistance of a veteran Hollywood executive (Alan Arkin) and an Oscar-winner (John Goodman) sworn to secrecy, to lend an air of authenticity to the ruse by posing as the picture's producer and makeup artist, respectively.
Figuring, "If you want to spread a lie, get the press to sell it for you," they launched the project at an elaborate press conference attended by actors in gaudy costumes. The media fell for it hook, line and sinker, and soon Tinseltown was abuzz about "Argo," an upcoming sci-fi set to be shot on location in Iran. Truth be told, Mendez would be the only person venturing on the dangerous mission to Teheran where the film's tone shifts from flip and lighthearted to stone cold sober. Upon arriving at the ambassador's house, the hero hands the six Americans newly-prepared passports with fresh identities as members of a Canadian film crew.
The tension rapidly ratchets-up in intensity as the ever-vigilant Iranian authorities close-in just as the diplomats make their escape to the airport where the slightest slip during an interrogation could mean the difference between life and death. An edge-of-your-seat thriller not to be forgotten at Oscar time.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and violent images.
Running time: 120 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers