As a small child, I can remember the Iranian hostage crisis as it dominated the news media for over a year. While I did not understand the political atmosphere behind it, I did understand that a group of our embassy staff were being held prisoner in a foreign land for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Director and star Ben Affleck has brought a new side to the story to light in the form of his new film “Argo”, which is based upon true events which have recently become declassified. The story centers around six workers of the embassy in Tehran, who fled the chaos when a disgruntled mob stormed the embassy walls. At that time it was unheard of for an embassy to be occupied as they host country and internal security were thought to of been more than adequate protection.
However for a country in a state of revolution, much less one that was extremely upset with America’s refusal to return the deposed Shah to face trial, security from the local populace was not available when the unthinkable happened.
After being turned away by the British and New Zealand embassies, the six escapees find refuge in the residence of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), who refuses to turn them away despite the volatile political situation harboring them would create should they ever be discovered.
On the other side of the world, C.I.A. Director Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), and his staff are desperately looking for a way to retrieve not only the Americans held hostage but also the six individuals currently being sheltered by the Canadian ambassador.
With few viable options available, save for the longshot of trying to get the refugees to bike through 300 miles of winter and soldier laden roads to the Turkish border, Tony Mendez (Affleck), is brought in to find other options.
One evening, Tony gets the idea to go to Iran posing as a Canadian filmmaker on a location scouting trip for an upcoming film. His plan is to pass the refugees off as part of his crew thanks to newly issued passports from the Canadian government.
In order to add validity to his plan, Tony recruits award-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), to help establish the necessary cover for the operation.
Soon Tony, John, and Lester have obtained a script for science fiction film named “Argo”, and the use the Hollywood trades and publicity machine to establish their back story of their production company and film project.
With time running down, Tony must venture alone to Tehran to meet with and prepare the refugees for extraction as well as firming up their cover with the local Iranian authorities.
What follows is a tense political thriller that is extremely well performed and captivating throughout. What really impressed me about the film was that Affleck expertly paced it and refrain from using such overused stereotypes such as car chases, fight sequences, and love scenes to tell the story.
The cast is exceptionally good all around and the film does a good job capturing the look and the atmosphere of the situation without ever becoming preachy and taking extreme political stances. Instead the focus is on real people caught in an extraordinary situation from which they were unprepared, and the extraordinary measures taken by good people in the United States and Canada who stepped up and did the right thing regardless of the cost to them personally or politically.
“Argo”, was an extremely pleasant surprise in one of the most enjoyable films I have seen this year. While I understand it would not be for everyone, I would not be surprised to see the film get a few Oscar nods come awards season as they would be in my opinion well deserved.
4 stars out of 5.
Second Review by Amara Dumlao
When American hostages were captured from the US Embassy in Tehran and long boiling political tensions finally exploded into the Iran Hostage Crisis, Americans were glued to their televisions. But “Argo” exposes a history that went under the radar of the 1970’s American public, the true story of six embassy’s employees who had escaped to the Canadian Ambassador’s residence during the embassy raid. Trapped in Iran, desperate to return home, and running out of time, the escapees, led by CIA operative Tony Mendez, risked their lives on a risky escape plan by posing as a film crew on the fictitious science fiction movie, “Argo”.
Accurate beyond the muted mustard overtones, big-rimmed glasses, and Farrah Fawcett inspired hairstyles so often used to distinguish the 1970s, “Argo” avoids fixation on the time period by highlighting the timeless human relevance of a political conflict that continues to impact the world today. Sharply engaging and dripping with non-bias truth the film presents characters whose relationships are honest, reactions understandable, and reality impossible.
The cast is brilliant, led by Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez) who displays a new side to his range shining with a subtle detail that may come to define his maturing career. Adding to the cast, in yet another role where she offers something exceptional to the screen is Clea DuVall, as trapped American embassy employee Cora Lijek. Yet the warmest moments of the film are a result of the Hollywood duo charged with convincing the world that the fake movie is a reality, Alan Arkin, as Producer Lester Siegel, and John Goodman, as famed make-up artist John Chambers.
While accurate, well cast, and cleanly captured, “Argo” is successful because it is able to efficiently guide viewers through the complicated and tense Iranian-American political landscape. A non-stop historical thriller, “Argo” doesn’t just place the audience into the past, it ignites an interest in the political lens of today. Succeeding where so many films based on a true story fail, it is earnest, layered, and completely captivating.