Many times when you think of a CIA action thriller, you may envision Harrison Ford, explosions, drug cartels and massive machine guns. That’s typically what Hollywood has shown us and is so deeply embedded in our psyche.
But what if a new type of thriller was born using verbal mastery that challenges our conventional way of thinking? That movie is Argo.
Based on a true story and true events that took place during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, the idea of Argo came to fruition. On Nov. 4, 1979, angry militias took over the U.S. Embassy in Iran during the revolution. 52 Americans were held hostage, while six managed to escape through a backdoor and were given reprieve at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
Knowing that these six were close to capture, and the outlook was not good, the CIA needed its top extraction specialist Anthony “Tony” Mendez (Ben Affleck) on the job to devise a plan for their escape. With the help of Hollywood, the CIA created a fake film that ultimately played a huge role in the rescue mission. Now, this faux film has inspired a real film. What unfolds in Argo is a tale almost too insane to be true.
It all started when producer Grant Heslov was doing a film with his producing partner (actor George Clooney) and read an article about the once classified operation.
“We thought it was great and immediately brought it to Ben (Affleck), who was looking for a good project,” said Heslov.
Not a stranger to directing and starring in his own movies (he starred in and directed The Town in 2010), Affleck took on the role as director and lead actor.
“I couldn’t believe how good this script was, and it was pretty incredible,” said Affleck. “At first I didn’t know how I was going to tackle this because it initially seemed like it should be a 10-hour mini-series, but Chris (Terrio, screenwriter) really pulled it together.”
Terrio successfully combined all of the intricate parts of the story that involved the CIA, Hollywood and Iran into one fluid movie without confusing the audience.
“There were all these parallel worlds involved,” said Terrio. “The CIA, Hollywood and Iran, and I needed to create a coherent story.”
The 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis itself is unbelievable; no one would think that Hollywood would have such a central part in making the CIA’s plan work.
“Great things can happen through cooperation,” said Bryan Cranston, who played agent Jack O’Donnell.
Alan Arkin, who played the only fictitious character in the film, Lester Siegel, added, “I was playing a character; I’ve met people like him…this big time Hollywood producer. That’s what life is like here!”
The film unfolds effortlessly right before the viewers’ eyes, and the suspense is intensely palpable. Argo takes place in three very different locations that have nothing in common, yet it feels like you are watching one movie instead of several stories. Obtaining this effect was not a challenge for Affleck.
“You need really good writing and really good acting, then I’m not distracted,” said Affleck. “I can really focus on the essence of the events and the words of the actors.”
Cranston also agreed that the writers’ work with the script also contributed to the cohesiveness of the movie.
“It’s easiest to work when you have really well written material, and the hardest work for an actor is poorly written material,” said Cranston. “So when we find something this good, it’s a scramble to be a part of it.”
He added, “[Affleck] also creates a really relaxed environment.”
The film brought back memories for some of the cast members who can vividly recall that time. John Goodman, who portrays Hollywood central figure John Chambers, remembers the hostage crisis well.
“It was an oppressive feeling and scary because you never knew what was going to happen next,” said Goodman.
Making a strong director’s choice, Affleck wanted to solidify the arc of truth in this story by using a historic voice in the film’s ending.
“I wanted to lock in the narrative and to really cement that this was true, so it was very important to use Jimmy Carter’s voice at the end of the film,” explained Affleck. “We had this true story, Hollywood satire and thriller all in one.”
On a lighter note, Affleck joked that his family was happy once filming was over because of his facial hair growth.
“The family unanimously hated the look with the beard,” said Affleck. “My kids called it ‘The Prickles’ and they kept asking when I was shaving ‘The Prickles’ off!”
Whether you like the beard or not, this film is another strong directorial move from Affleck that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Argo releases in theaters Friday, Oct. 12.