Political turmoil with Iran and the racial tensions of patriotic American fighters rallying against betrayed, vengeful Iranian usurpers was strong in 1979 for the highly publicized hostage crisis. Although this specific historical event hasn’t been in contemporary media for decades, the subject matter hasn’t lost any of its edge, especially with the continued bedlam in the Middle East. And this particular true story has such an outrageous setup and resolution that it makes sense for Hollywood to finally tackle adapting it for theatrical exhibition. Here, director Ben Affleck takes every necessary step to recreate a time and place with such authenticity, “Argo” unwaveringly looks like a genuine product of the time. Sets, costumes, accessories, dialogue, colors, film graininess, cinematography and more resemble a 30 year-old movie to a tee.
On November 4th, 1979, Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, capturing more than 50 staff members in retaliation for the United States sheltering of the Shah – a leader responsible for years of Iranian poverty and suffering due to unwelcome modernization and kingly excesses. Six employees manage to escape and gain refuge in the Canadian Ambassador’s residence. 69 days later, the U.S. State Department starts brainstorming options for exfiltrating the secret fugitives. The clock is ticking, as enemy sweatshop children are employed to piece together shredded photographs to identify the missing personnel.
CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is called in to analyze their options and comes up with a spectacularly kooky notion: to enter the chaotic country as a movie producer and extract the targets under the guise of Canadian science-fiction filmmakers scouting for shooting locations. “This is the best bad idea we have, sir… by far,” insists supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston). They enlist the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to create a cover story with all the bells and whistles necessary to fool Iranian revolutionary guards and the heightened security at the airport – an actual producer, a script, storyboards, poster art, publicity, and employees who think they’re making a movie. And they have just a week to set it all up.
The possibility of governmental embarrassment creates a strong lack of confidence in the ploy – and understandably so. Mendez selects a “Star Wars” ripoff called “Argo” for the project and approaches it with as much seriousness as possible, despite the goofiness and derivativeness of the plot, character designs, and actors involved. “If I’m doing a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit,” exclaims Siegel, emphatically supporting the idea of excessive components for the sake of realism. Deception is the typical language of Hollywood. But a military rescue sounds like the more reasonable answer, with the embellishment of “Argo” resembling a secret mission file that gets buried away in a facility like the one at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
While there is an abundance of nail-biting suspense dripping from every scene as the group tries desperately to evade detection (right down to the obligatory stalling car), there’s also an unavoidable sense of a positive outcome. Whether or not it’s the focus on historical accurateness, regardless of fictional additives, the progression and actions of characters leans toward a degree of disbelief for disaster. Maybe it’s Affleck’s long, consternated stares, or Cranston’s boisterous barking of orders, but the dire situations tend to lose their urgency in the illumination of an unconvincing struggle to create thrills. Alan Arkin and John Goodman provide seasoned comic relief – the kind that seems effortless as if they’re the most naturally funny people in the business – which, while entirely entertaining, also lightens the mood. For many, this is a smart balance, even if it influences predictability, and “Argo” will likely garner plenty of attention during awards season.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)