Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Distributor: Roadshow Films
Runtime: 120 mins. Reviewed in Oct 2012
The plight of the hostages trapped in the US Embasssy in Tehran from 1979 to 1981 was a strong political focus at the time – and was considered one of the reasons by Jimmy Carter was not re-elected as president. However, there was a story behind the headlines, a story that still seems far-fetched, but which was released for the public only in 1997 by President Clinton.
Argo is that story.
How it relates to current attitudes to Iran and its nuclear program as well as its staunchly religious administration of the country will be an interesting issue with this film’s release, reminding audiences of Iranian history. There is an interesting summary (with images) at the beginning of the film: critique of the British and American colonial behaviour in the first part of the 20th century, the brief attempt at democracy and the nationalizing of oil in the 1950s, the placing of the Shah as ruler and his brutal and luxurious regime, the revolt and the accession of Ayotollah Khomeini as supreme ruler.
Protestors went rampant outside the American Embassy, vividly re-created here, with the infiltration of the embassy, the flight of six staff members and their refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, with the rest of the staff (around sixty) trapped for over a year.
We are taken into the workings of the American government. There are bizarre plans to rescue the hostages (cycling to the Turkish border, agricultural experts visiting – but it was winter – and teachers visiting, but the international school had been closed).
An expert on hostage release is called in who proposes an extraordinary scenario – which worked, Tony Mendez.
The film is very well-paced, building up the details of the plan, to send in Mendez as scouting for locations in Iran for a science-fantasy (after all, it was the era of Star Wars). An Oscar-winning make-up artist for Planet of the Apes, John Chambers, agrees to participate. John Goodman gives a great and funny performance as Chambers. So does Alan Arkin as a has been director who agrees to join in the plan and move things along – with deals with agents, storyboarding and a full-dress reading of the script. It was called Argo (which leads to a frequently mouthed insult, Aah, go…).
While the planning is interesting, given the time restraints (and the toing and froing of official okaying of the venture), the scenes of the six at the Canadian house, showing them to be generally young men and women, are fascinating. But it is Tony Mendez’ daring, getting advice in Istanbul, entering Iran, visiting the minister of culture, briefing the six with new identities, Canadian passports and professional skills for Argo, which create plenty of tension for the audience even though we know the outcome.
A scene where they all go to a market, pass through a riot and cause one of the own, builds up the atmosphere for the actual departure. The scenes at the airport – will they, won’t they get away – are particularly effective.
Great credit to Ben Affleck who co-wrote the film and expertly directed it – after making the fine dramas, Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town. He also plays Tony Mendez, making his character, plan and the carrying out, always amazing.
As thrillers for 2012 go, this is one of the best.
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