Ben Affleck has come a long way as an actor, and now also as a maker of films, and his new film ‘Argo’ is living proof of it. Based on a true story about six U.S. embassy workers in Teheran who became trapped in the Canadian embassy in 1979 during the violent protests against the U.S. for giving asylum and aide to the former Shah of Iran, here is one more case where truth is stranger than fiction. Truly.
Here is a bit of the summary of the back story from the producers—
“On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a risky plan to get them safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies.”
Instead of art imitating life (though this film is an example of that), here we have a case of art saving lives, and what cheesy art it is— a bad sci-fi flick called Argo to be filmed on location in Teheran and elsewhere in the Middle East. Not to worry, it’s a phony film used as a ruse to provide an escape mechanism for the trapped Americans. Who is surprised that someone in Hollywood (in this case Tony Chambers) would go along with such a ridiculous ruse??
A few facts about the film. This film has an R rating due entirely to its ‘blue’ (i.e. foul) language, as my father used to call it. It is in any case an intense adult thriller not suited for children, and at 2 hours it would take a lot of concessions bribery to get them to sit through it anyway. It is not a shoot ’em up action flick. That said, as adult thrillers go, this is an excellent one, so don’t embargo the cargo in Argo If you like thrillers you will like this film, and if you need a reason to feel a little bit proud of the courage of some of our American governmental operatives, then this is the film for you.
As for the acting, it’s excellent. I especially enjoyed Alan Arkin (one of my favorite actors anyway) who provides, along with John Goodman, the Hollywood comic relief in this film with lots of good one liners. For instance…
John Chambers: So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything?
Tony Mendez: Yeah.
John Chambers: You’ll fit right in.
It’s rare that a serious thriller has any comic relief, but this film has quite a lot of it, whenever the scene shifts to Hollywood.
The other side of the coin is that once again this film reveals the seamier side of American foreign policy and relations, namely our tendency to support corrupt brutal dictators like the Shah, which support comes back to bite us later. You begin to understand why some countries really don’t like America, or at least American foreign policy. This film is in many ways timely, in light of the recent disasters in Benghazi Libya.
Ben Affleck is superb in this film as Tony Mendez who cooks up the scheme to liberate the six trapped Americans and cooks it up quickly because the situation in Iran was daily deteriorating for any Westerners. Unlike some thrillers this one is an ‘escape’ thriller (will they get out in time, or not), and so the story does not involve a lot of violence, but rather a lot of suspense, and tension, and patheos, and worry…. and more than one person in the audience biting their fingernails as the story unwinds with danger at every turn.
Affleck knows how to build the suspense through small things (like will the house maid in the Canadian embassy betray her ‘house guests’) and through setting the mood properly. The scene of riding through the bazaar through the middle of a protest made me want to jump right out of my skin. Snatches of music like Zepplin’s ‘Levee’ song add to the tension.
‘Argo’ should get some nominations for Oscars in the drama category, though I doubt it will win any awards. Nevertheless, this is good story telling, about a true tale of a profile in guts, ingenuity and courage, and as such it deserves to be told and remembered. Most interestingly, it is a story about a dramatic rescue in a hostile setting where not a single shot was fired to get the six out of the country. Not one.