Recounting the controversial hostage situation in Iran that began in 1979, Ben Affleck's Argo is an artful reimagining of what later became known as the Canadian Caper, a CIA mission helmed by Antonio J. Mendez that successfully exfiltrated six American hostages. Screenwriter Chris Terrio (whose only previous feature was 2005's Heights) adapted the story from a 2007 article by Joshuah Bearman in Wired entitled "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran," as well as Mendez's novel, The Master of Disguise.
Affleck, who also directed, solves the problem of telling a story with such historical depth (read: lack of brevity) by opening the movie with a series of beautifully rendered animation scenes retelling the tumultuous turn of events that led to the United States' harboring of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Furious that the U.S. would intervene in letting the people of Iran depose the shah for his secularization and modernization of the country, not to mention his vast accumulation of political prisoners and suppression of anyone who dissented, tensions mounted until the capture of multiple Americans working for the U.S. Embassy in Iran occurred.
Before the hostages were taken, the identities of Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham), Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishe) and Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane) were destroyed and all images of them were shredded. Trying to seek sanctuary at the British Embassy, the group was thwarted by the swarm of hostile Iranians at every turn. Ultimately, Bob Anders allied them with Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), whose home they would remain at for 79 days.
Increasingly worried for the safety of the hostages, Tony Mendez (Affleck) devised a plan for the CIA involving a fake movie called Argo. Mendez's superior, Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston, whose only truly great acting moment in the film is when he frenziedly tries to get in contact with the White House Chief of Staff), gets approval for the operation and allows Mendez to meet with Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to facilitate and legitimize the process. Chambers, who had cooperated with the CIA in other endeavors, then enlists the assistance of a producer crazy enough to go along with the idea, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).
The intricacies of the plan leave no base uncovered as Mendez, Chambers and Siegel go so far as to put on a press event for the reading of the script and create a series of shot by shot storyboards to show to film industry contacts once in Iran. When the plan is as fine tuned as it's going to be, Mendez flies to Tehran to carry it out and help the hostages memorize their detailed cover stories.
As the stakes continue to escalate, Affleck builds the anticipation to a crescendo when the hostages are taken to the airport by Mendez (a last minute executive decision on his part after O'Donnell instructed him to cease going through with the mission). In terms of directorial skills, it is clear that Affleck has vastly honed his abilities in the short time since 2010's The Town (equally as riveting by the way).
Although the film was, of course, stylized for dramatic purposes, the re-creation of events is largely accurate. And, after all, taking liberties for cinematic purposes has been a staple of the film industry since, ahem, The Birth of a Nation.