There’s the obvious fact that both are based on real events that involve the United States and our dealings with the Arab world. From a story standpoint, both films follow similar patterns. In Argo, we start with a primer on the United States’ relationship with Iran and how all this lead to the eventual taking of the U.S. Consulate in Iran. In Zero Dark Thirty, we start with eerie sound from the tragedy of 9/11.
Both films then introduce us to our protagonist and the job they devote themselves. In both cases, our protagonists are intelligence agents. In Argo, we follow Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) as he puts together a phony movie to use as a front to get six American who escaped the U.S. Consulate and are hiding in the home of a Canadian diplomat stationed in Iran out of the country. In Zero Dark Thirty, we follow the more mysterious agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she spearheads the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Both movies climax with the end of their respective missions.
The tone of the two films presents the biggest difference between them. While Zero Dark Thirty was serious and mostly grim, Argo manages to insert considerable humor into the proceedings (mind you, the film is NOT a comedy) which play out like a real life Mission: Impossible episode, minus all the masks and sophisticated equipment.
The events in Argo took place in 1980 while the events in Zero Dark Thirty took place in 2011, some thirty one years later. And while both films are highly recommended and are equally enjoyable on their own merits, I found it sad to compare and contrast them and realize that after all these years between the events depicted in the two movies we are still caught in a vortex when it comes to the Arab world.
Perhaps one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will finally, finally make a peace between our peoples.