Argo

“Argo F*** Yourself”

         
 

11 October 2012| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Outlandish and stirring political story based on truth. Argo is a triumph for Ben Affleck as a director (“Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town” his previous credits), keeping a swift pace and the suspense crackling. Although this is Hollywood moviemaking at its best, I wouldn’t say that the screenplay itself is of the highest pedigree. Solid, but missing a certain courage to throw in more perilous Iranian ideology. The premise: Six American embassy employees are secreted at a Canadian safe house in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis and must be liberated in clandestine fashion. The Iranian revolutionaries do not yet know of their disappearance, but as the U.S. government learns that the Iranians are literally piecing together shreds of information to identify Embassy employees, the encroaching plot develops into a race-against-the-clock thriller.

Affleck, starring also as a CIA operative named Tony Mendez, conjures up a novel idea that gets an apathetic approval by the White House Chief of Staff: Mendez will gain entrance into the Iranian consulate, masquerading as a Canadian film producer, and ask permission to shoot a cheesy sci-fi movie called “Argo.” The far-fetched idea is half convincing because Iran can be an exotic stand-in for a strange, far away planet. Fake press releases, storyboards and a screenplay are manifested.

This is the kind of tall tale outrageous enough to work, even in that revolutionary climate, because everybody loves a “Star Wars” knock-off. John Goodman plays real-life make-up artist John Chambers (he won an Oscar for “Planet of the Apes”) and Alan Arkin plays film mogul Lester Siegel. The Hollywood scenes have a mythical 1970’s grandeur of their own – the press release party to get the name of “Argo” in the trade papers is priceless industry vanity. When the film gets to Iran though, Affleck proves apt to give us the architecture (the color and feel), and the feverish anarchists serve right to our feared perceptions.

Making it more difficult, is that there is always one unyielding Mensch to spoil the exodus. Agent Mendez asks the hostages to assume different names, to learn of ersatz background information, and to trick immigration officials. But one lout sounds off (he fears of being taken to public court and hanged instantaneously). More trouble for Mendez, the Iranian government call his bluff, so he and his “crew” are escorted in Tehran to scout locations, in plain sight, to appease the consulate. Tehran is the lion’s den for angry Iranian jingoists.

What makes the film gripping? It’s a matter of juggling several different lies at once, for the present persons involved and for other assists at CIA headquarters. Affleck uses a guerrilla verité camera style to amp up the urgency. The evacuation leads from the safe house to the airport, and past a paramount of irritable security testy with white faces. It’s agonizingly suspenseful, like the beginning of “Midnight Express” in drawn-out slo-mo. You utter “dammit” from under your own breath waiting for what’s about to happen next.

Affleck is a front-runner for Best Director awards. I would select five others at this point but still, I can’t dispute too much. It must be noted however that “Argo” was filmed in Istanbul, Turkey. Which to untrained American eyes… we’re convinced it’s Iran while we’re watching it. Still, for movies about Iran that rip up on-location authenticity, check out this year’s documentary “The Iran Job” and last year’s “A Separation.”

120 Minutes. Rated R.

HISTORICAL DRAMA / THINKING MAN’S THRILLER / FRIDAY NIGHT EXCITEMENT

Film Cousins: “Midnight Express” (1978); “Wag the Dog” (1997); “Spy Game” (2001); “Munich” (2005).

 

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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