Argo

A biographical thriller involving a  joint CIA and Canadian Government secret operation to extract six American diplomats out of Iran during the 1980 Iranian Crisis.


Writer:  Chris Terrio
Director:  Ben Affleck
Stars:  Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Runtime/Raiting:  120 Minutes/ R
Popcorn Score:  Large Popcorn with Butter

I cannot thank President Bill Clinton enough for declassifying the CIA’s “Argo Files” in 1997 because this story is way too good to not be a movie!

Inspired by a true story this creative and heroic extraction mission of 6 American diplomats during the Iranian Hostage Crisis is an intense and entertaining thrill ride.  Ben Affleck’s 3rd directorial effort starts with a voice over providing a background of the Iranian/ US relationship in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s including the historical events lead up to 1979.  As the movie alludes, after WWII leaders of the Western world in Britain and America assisted in appointing and maintaining a Shah named Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who held power for decades leading up to the crisis.  Many Iranians felt that this was an invasive attempt to control their country and impose a westernized civilization that they wanted nothing to do with.  This collective attitude by a large group of Islamist students and militants was the cause of the crisis and the taking over of the American Embassy in Tehran.

The movie shows that day being a chaotic one for the American diplomats involved.  As the swarming mob broke down the fence to the embassy and broke their way in to “America”, the soon to be captured ambassadors hustled to burn incriminating evidence and attempt a last-ditch escape.  52 Americans weren’t so lucky; the Iranians took control over the embassy and held the American citizens hostage for the next 444 days.  During the takeover, 6 Americans were fortunate enough to escape and hide out in ally country’s embassies.

Argo is the story of those 6 fortunate Americans and how they were brought back home.

Ben Affleck takes a riveting script by Chris Terrio and continues to prove that he is the real deal as a director, leading one of the most nerve wracking and edge of your seat thrillers of the year.  Also starring as CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez, he carries the movie as a calm and confident agent who thrives in impossible situations.

The CIA was stuck for ideas to get these 6 ambassadors out of the very heated country.  During an initial brain storming session the best idea they have is to secretly send in bikes to the 6 escapees and have them bike 300 miles in the winter to Turkey.  This obviously is not a sufficient plan for the CIA, so Mendez comes up with an idea to cover the 6 Americans as a film crew from Canada on a pre-shoot visit to Iran.  He would travel to the country alone, meet with them, provide them with their alias names, back stories and Canadian issued passports and later walk them through the most dangerous airport in the world to safety.

The reason why Argo is such a fascinating film is because it consists of two completely different and entertaining stories that need to rely on one another for everything to work out.  One minute you are trenched in CIA operative meetings at the highest level trying to solve a national crisis.  The next minute you are being thoroughly entertained by two old Hollywood vets with a behind the scenes look of the movie business in 1980.  I would watch both of those movies on their own!

John Goodman and Alan Arkin classically play the makeup man and film producer who work on the Hollywood side of the operation.  As they have drinks, cast actors, and sell advertisements for a nonexistent sci-fi in the heat of California, they provide most of the laughs for the movie that are frequent and energetic.  They however are in a much different heat than their counterparts in Iran who if the mission fails, are likely to be publically executed.

The other side of the story is filled with great characters who are playing the most powerful men in the country.  Brian Cranston delivers as always as the CIA head who green lights the plan, Chris Messina lifts the mood in Washington in a good supporting role and Philip Baker Hall and Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption) also provide great cameos in such a complete film.

The suspense is what hits home more than anything in Argo.  For most of the 2-hour runtime I had an accelerated heartbeat and was truly on the edge of my seat.  I intentionally refrained from reading any more than I already knew about the crisis, and with limited knowledge of the “Canadian Caper” (The name that the extraction operation was dubbed at the time) I benefitted of truly not knowing if/how or when this absurd and flawed plan was going to fold.   Affleck tells the story in such a crafty way that the collapse could happen multiple times throughout, never giving you a chance to fully catch your breath.  That being said, I would assume most of this films raving audience knows the whole story beforehand and even I assumed throughout that if the story is worth telling, success was probably achieved.  Knowing the outcome before seeing the movie won’t take anything away.

The story in Argo is a piece of history that had to be told in a movie.  After all, much of the idea did originate with help from Hollywood.  You could say the “screenplay” was written in 1980 by a CIA agent from Washington and 2 show business tycoons, but at that time the story was established for the greater good than to just make a movie.  The actors had to learn their rolls in just days under the most horrific of circumstances.  Its mission was accomplished but the screenplay was buried, then 30 years later it was finally made into the great movie that it was meant to be.

Large Popcorn with Butter.

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