“Argo” is a home run. Ben Affleck confirms his talent as a storyteller with a film that has new relevance following recent anti-American turmoil in the Mideast.
Most Americans don’t know about the CIA operative who guided six U.S. Embassy employees out of Iran in early 1980. The mission was declassified in the 90’s and now the tale can be told, with dramatic embellishments. The embassy staffers had taken refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence during the siege that began the hostage crisis in 1979.
Ben Affleck is director and star of “Argo.” Look for a best director nomination for his excellent work with a compelling story and a strong cast.
“Argo” grabs attention from its opening frames. Following a brief prelude that gives an overview of Persian history, “Argo” presents a graphic recreation of the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
What distinguishes “Argo” from other rescue mission movies is the scheme employed to convince Iranian officials that the six Americans (and the CIA guy played by Affleck) are members of a Canadian film crew. A Hollywood makeup man (played by John Goodman) and a veteran producer (played by Alan Arkin) provide a legitimate cover story for the “crew.” Goodman and Arkin’s characters also provide vital comic relief.
Affleck, Goodman and Arkin sift through a pile of rejected movie scripts. From the many, one is chosen. Titled “Argo,” it gets the full Hollywood treatment: storyboards, posters, a media event, coverage in movie trade papers, etc. The Iranians buy it. The CIA guy gets into Iran. Getting the six others and himself out is the hard part.
The pacing of “Argo” is near perfect. Its narrative unfolds neatly, switching among settings in Iran, CIA HQ, the White House and Hollywood.
Our trip back to the beginning of the 80’s accurately shows long hair and sideburns on men, omnipresent smoking, 70’s cars and archival clips of TV news coverage of the hostage crisis. An answering machine similar to one I owned back in the day is an appropriate period prop.
Bryan Cranston is Affleck’s CIA boss. Kyle Chandler is almost a dead-ringer for former Carter administration Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan.
Some who post on message boards are distressed that the role Affleck plays was not given to a Hispanic actor, as the real life CIA operative was a Latino. Friends of the real life Canadian ambassador claim he was given less credit for his role in the mission by the filmmakers than he deserves. Others posters claim that the movie is little more than US propaganda to get the country ready for our upcoming war with Iran. Folks, it’s a movie. It’s based on a true story, but it’s a movie.
Hollywood likes movies about movie making, which means “Argo” could be a contender for best picture.
“Argo” is a “must see.” Those who can recall the awful feelings we felt in America during the hostage crisis will appreciate the fact that during that horrible period, our country managed to do at least one thing right.