by Jason Pyles
Movie Podcast Weekly.com
Premise: Based on historical events, “Argo” depicts the rescue attempt of six U.S. embassy personnel who were holed up at a Canadian ambassador’s house during the Iran hostage crisis, which took place between 1979 and 1981.
Review: While watching “Argo,” I couldn’t help but wonder how this story hadn’t been adapted to the silver screen sooner. The full story wasn’t revealed until 1997, but I’m surprised we didn’t have a movie version at least by 1998. Truly, it’s one of those instances of “truth is stranger than fiction.” It’s also one of those “It’s so crazy, it just might work” kind of plans. I’ll describe the overview of said plan in broad strokes, without spoiling what happens, in case you haven’t seen the movie and aren’t familiar with the history. (Naturally, as with just about every real-life Hollywood adaptation, there are some disparities between the film and what actually happened, but we afford such embellishments and omissions in the name of dramatic storytelling. This review reflects the film version of these events.)
The following description is no doubt an over-simplification of the events leading up to “Argo,” but the film itself opens with a similarly reductive explanation. Basically, in 1979 a mob of Islamic militants raided the American embassy in Tehran, as part of the Iranian Revolution. They were angry with the U.S. because the infamous Shah of Persia was being held (and protected) in the states, and his stay was prolonged due to some health problems he was having. The revolutionaries wanted to bring him to justice for his crimes against humanity, but the U.S. would not turn him over, hence the hostage take-over. So, while 52 Americans were captured and held hostage, six Americans escaped and hid at the Canadian ambassador’s home in Tehran. (I’m no historian; this is just what I learned from the film’s opening.)
That’s the set-up. Enter a CIA “exfiltration specialist” named Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) who devises a plan to retrieve the six hiding embassy workers under the guise of a fake, science fiction fantasy film. Mendez attempts to pose as the producer of a film called “Argo,” while traveling to the Canadian ambassador’s home in Tehran, where he will then train the six to play their own roles as a Canadian film crew, in hopes of exiting the country incognito and returning back to the United States unscathed.
As noted above, truth is stranger than fiction. This bizarre little piece of history is portrayed exceptionally well in “Argo,” which was also directed by Affleck. The film skates a balance of being humorous and extremely tense, to the point that I felt a little manipulated by the many moments injected into the screenplay to generate dramatic tension. But I guess in a world where cinema has largely replaced genuine suspense with the much lesser shock value for shock value’s sake, I won’t complain too much.
I love that “Argo” was eventually made into a real movie. (I’m not 100 percent certain that “Argo” was the script’s actual name, but they used a real script in order to sell this fake movie.) Either way, it makes me smile to know that this film eventually made it to the big screen, albeit in a much different form than its writer’s original idea (much like most movies ever made).
Summary: When “Argo” ended, and I stood up to leave the theater, I felt like I had seen a movie that was a 10 out of 10. But upon considering it, I’m not sure its re-watch value would carry the same fascination with repeated viewings. Therefore, I’ve deducted a half a point from “Argo” since it’s probably not as re-watchable as other movies, though I admit that’s really not the film’s fault. Once we know the story, and we’ve seen exactly how everything unfolds, it’s just not the same. Even so, having said that, I’d recommend catching “Argo” in the theater, and if you’re a collector of movies, this film merits sitting upon your shelf of other great films.
Verdict: 9.5 out of 10 ( Theater / Buy It! )
Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman
Genre: Drama / Biography / Thriller
MPAA Rating: R (for language and some violent images)
Runtime: 120 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: October 12, 2012