Affleck succeeds with 'Argo'
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 19:10
With its basis on the real-life CIA exfiltration staged around a fake science fiction movie during the Iranian hostage crisis, Ben Affleck’s “Argo” could have been a complete disaster. Instead, the film is an intensely stunning success.
“Argo” tells the story of the siege of the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 1979 and the subsequent plot to rescue six Americans hiding out in the Canadian Embassy. The film follows CIA extractor Tony Mendez, played by director Ben Affleck (“The Town”), as he comes up with and executes his plan to make sure the world believes this phony “Star Wars”-esque desert film is a reality. “Argo” captures it all, from creating a believable guise in production company Studio Six Productions, with comedic performances by producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, “Get Smart”) and Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to putting together the necessary pieces of seven new identities for these trapped Americans and Mendez himself.
The film opens with heart-wrenching scenes of American flag burning and riots in Tehran. These riot scenes are present throughout “Argo,” intertwined with reactions from those in America. A vital part of the history of United States foreign relations is beautifully told by these scenes. The Persian language Farsi is heard throughout the film, almost incessantly, and not always translated onscreen, which adds to the overall uneasy feeling of tension between every party in “Argo.”
On the other hand, viewers will laugh hysterically at the scenes involving Hollywood guys Sieel and Chambers as they joke about the 1970s film business and make it clear that even a fake movie will be a good one if they are on board. At one point, Chambers asks Mendez, “So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without really doing anything?” and when Mendez answers yes, he tells him he will fit right in. These lighter moments are essential to “Argo,” since the rest of the subject matter is so heavy and so many of the film’s images are so powerful.
During the big Hollywood read-through of the “Argo” script, which is essentially a sci-fi costume party, the film cuts to chilling images of the 52 hostages being held in the United States embassy in Tehran. The myriad of feelings evoked during this scene are not easily matched.
The only truly questionable part of ‘Argo’ is the timeframe – Mendez flies in, barely gives the six people time to learn their new names, and then they are all off trying to make it out of Tehran, believably, not only as different people, but as a film crew. Yes, their lives depend on their portrayal of these characters, but even in such a situation one would think they would need more than a hurried two days to pull off the scheme. When some of the members of the group are questioning whether or not to even follow through with Mendez’s plan, they seem to be wasting precious time that could have been used to learn their characters. But, seemingly out of some magic learning skills, they end up confident enough about their identities to flee.
“Argo” may not be a completely accurate history lesson, but the way it portrays the truly ridiculous sounding real premise of the story sparks the want to know more about such a crucial time.
“Argo” receives 4 out of 5 stars