Movie Review: Argo (2012)
Written by: Chris Terrio
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Running Time: 120 min
Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez
Bryan Cranston as Jack O'Donnell
John Goodman as John Chambers
Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel
Victor Garber as Ken Taylor
Clea Duvall as Cora Lijek
Tate Donovan as Bob Anders
Kyle Chandler as Hamilton Jordan
Based on true events, Argo is the story of the Iran Hostage Crisis which began in November of 1979 when 60 hostages were taken in the American embassy in Tehran. Six Americans escaped the embassy and received shelter at the Canadian ambassador's private home. While a lot of Americans are familiar with the story of the hostages held at the embassy, not many have known the story of the six escapees and their daring rescue from Iran. I was 14 at the time of the crisis, and while I do not remember everything that happened, I do remember this time because my childhood best friend was living in Tehran at the time. Her father worked for an American company and they had moved their when she was very young. When the shah was deposed and all of the unrest began, her family came back to America for safety. I knew about the hostages at that time, but I was totally unaware of the six that escaped until this film.
The film begins with a short history lesson on the tensions that have plagued this region of the war for centuries. Using storyboards similar to the ones used later in the actual film, the audience is caught up on events leading up to the crisis in late 1979. The Shah has been granted asylum in the United States where he is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. The Ayatollah is in power and the people of Iran are demanding that the US return the Shah to their country to be tried and most likely publicly executed for his alleged crimes against the people. A riot has begun outside the American Embassy, and as Iranians pour over the walls and break through the gates, the staff inside of hastily attempting to destroy all sensitive information inside the embassy. There is a flurry of activity as they burn, shred, and hammer all that they can before it is clear that either they need to get out of the building or be taken prisoner. Six of the staff members, including Bob Anders and Cora Lijek, manage to escape from the rear of the building and are taken in by the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor, and his wife. They proceed to stay inside the home for months without leaving. Reminiscent of the Jews in Nazi Germany, they must occasionally hide under the floor in the crawlspace if it looks as if the house may be searched.
Back in the United States, concerns are growing both for the hostages and for the six escapees. At first, the Iranians and the rest of the world are unaware that anyone escaped the embassy. Only the CIA and the President's inner circle know about their existence, but it is only a matter of time before they are discovered. The book of staff pictures from the embassy had been shredded, but the Iranians have employed young children to pick through each shred of paper and reassemble as much of the book as they can. The US intelligence community knows that soon they will realize that some of the faces are missing from their hostages.
Meetings are held and heated discussions begin as to the best course of action to rescue the six. Tony Mendez, a CIA agent specializing in these types of situations, is called in to consult on the case. The best idea the US can come up with is to bring in bicycles and have the escapees try to make their way to the Turkish border. Mendez astutely points out to them that without a support team, the six won't have a chance. Plus there is the issue of winter. The other idea is to have the six pose as teachers or agricultural workers. Again, Mendez points out the impracticality of this plan. Unable to come up with a workable plan, the tensions rise as they realize they are likely running out of time.
It is while watching The Planet of the Apes with his son that Mendez comes up with the idea of posing as filmmakers scouting a location for a science fiction movie. He notices that the locations for this type of film look a lot like the terrain in Iran. But it's not that simple. Knowing how thorough the Iranians will be, Mendez knows that the story has to be believable in every aspect. They need a production company, an actual script, and credible Hollywood names attached to the project before they attempt such a plan. Of course, there is much skepticism among the intelligence community about the potential success of such an undertaking. But after being unable to come up with anything better, they decide to give it a go. And thus begins the story of Argo, the science fiction film that would never be made.
The film is just about perfect in every respect. The direction and pacing is perfect. There is never a dull moment and the 2 hour running time just flies by. The casting could not have been better. At the end of the movie, the actors images are juxtaposed with pictures of the actual person and it is amazing how close they came to looking like the real people. The images of the riots, American flag-burning, and public executions are also compared to the film's depiction and it is clear that a lot of care was taken to be as accurate as possible. Now I have heard interviews with Ben Affleck where he does admit to taking some dramatic license, particularly at the end, to enable the story to be told in as dramatic and interesting a way as possible without losing the basic truth and essence of the actual story. And I think he succeeds brilliantly. The last 35 minutes of the film are so taut and tense, that my hands were clammy and I could barely sit still.
The performances are amazing. Everyone is perfect in their roles. No one dominates the film and no one overacts. There is not one moment that doesn't feel authentic. It really felt as if we were taken into the moment and were given a chance to experience it. Argo won the Oscar for Best Film and really deserved that honor. I don't want to belabor a point already made by many of my colleagues that Ben Affleck was wrongfully overlooked for the Best Director nomination. Not only should he have been nominated, but he should have won it.
If you see just one film this year, it needs to be Argo. I unreservedly recommend it and if I had my rating system up and running, it would receive top honors. Thanks for stopping by and getting buzzed! I'd love to hear what you think about Argo. And tell your friends about JollyBuzz!