Trenchcoats, crazy CIA plans, beards and a gripping true life hostage situation - there's a lot to enjoy in Ben Affleck's latest. Following The Town and Gone, Baby Gone, this is another assured directorial job from Affleck, here channeling the spirit of 70s classics like All The President's Men and Klute to craft an intelligent, grown-up thriller that doesn't have to resort to shoot-outs to ratchet up the tension. Bonus points for Van Halen and Led Zep on the soundtrack.
Tehran 1979: Ayatollah Khomeni's revolution is in full swing, the US embassy is stormed, 52 hostages taken - but six staff members manage to escape in the confusion and seek refuge in the Canadian embassy. Back in Washington, Carter-era spooks concoct "exfiltration" plans - with "the best bad idea" being a fake Hollywood production company scouting middle eastern locations for a Star Wars rip-off.
The film keeps the potential for any "Hollywood - so CRAZY!!" stuff to a minimum - managing to contrast it with the intensity of 70s revolutionary Tehran without resorting to Get Shorty wackiness. Max graininess in the cinematography (shot with an Arri Alexa, fact fans, as well as "on film, cut in half, blown up 200%" according to IMDB trivia) combines with actual news footage to build convincing period atmosphere.
Affleck plays Tony Mendez, the CIA agent leading the plan, a role that plays to his strengths. The rest of the casting is spot on - Bryan "Breaking Bad" Cranston, Tate "Damages" Donovan, John Goodman as Hollywood make-up expert John Chambers (responsible for Planet Of The Apes' apes and Spock's ears), Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Rory "Dazed And Confused" Cochrane, Titus (Lost's Man in Black) Welliver, Scoot (Monsters) McNairy and a cameo from Adrienne Barbeau in the goofy Argo cast's table read.
For more background, here's the Wired article on the actual CIA operation and the real-life fake movie. It's a great read, though obviously it's pretty much the entire plot. One nice detail that gets a little lost in the film - Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby did the original comic strip-style production drawings.