Ben Affleck has once again demonstrated himself to be a very capable director. Argo is an entertaining political thriller with a big cast that he deftly handles. Despite the fact that you know how the story ends you still find yourself tense and on the edge of your seat. Many are saying that this is Affleck’s most accomplished and assured of his three films (previous two being The Town and Gone Baby Gone) and is sure to get Oscar recognition when the nominations come out.
It is 1979 and the Carter administration has its hands full with the situation it has created in Iran. Due to the fact that the U.S. has involved itself in Iran in many ways, anti-American sentiment is about to explode. The people of Iran are furious with the U.S. for several reasons, but their anger boils over when the U.S. takes in the recently deposed Shah because he is deathly ill. The U.S. refuses to hand over the Shah and so a large group gathers outside of the U.S. consulate in Tehran. This group, growing angrier by the moment, manages to storm the consulate. Once inside they take all the workers and members of the military hostage.
Before they are captured, six U.S. consulate workers manage to get out. Bob Anders (Tate Donovan – from television’s Damages), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall – The Grudge, Girl, Interrupted), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham – Shutter Island, Charlie Wilson’s War), Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy – Killing Them Softly, Bobby), Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishé – from television’s Scrubs), and Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane – Dazed and Confused, Public Enemies) get out undetected and find shelter in the Canadian consulate. Ken Taylor (Victor Garber – Titanic, Milk) takes the Americans in, but he cannot keep them there forever.
Back in the United States members of the upper level of the government meet to try and come up with a way to get the six Americans out. CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck – Good Will Hunting, Pearl Harbor) comes up with what turns out to be the best option. He is going to pretend that he and the six Americans are Canadians working on a sci-fi film called “Argo”. With Canadian passports they will all try to slip out of the country undetected. It is risky, but is all they’ve got.
Even though this is a true story much of it seems totally unbelievable. It is a film that has funny moments (the whole idea of the CIA getting Hollywood involved in one of their missions is hilarious) as well as very dark ones. It is these opposing moments that make the film as it never gets too farcical or heavy. Affleck manages to balance this without letting either getting out of control. There is a chance that it could become a mess, but he never allows this. Affleck certainly has a style of his own that is identifiable. I also enjoyed the fact that he brought an Old Hollywood feel to the film with his sets, costumes, hair, music, and cinematography. It is obvious he is attempting to replicate directors of 70s films like Dog Day Afternoon and the like.
Though I did enjoy the film there were a couple of problems with it that nagged at me throughout the film. Through all the patriotic drivel of how this American hero saved his fellow countrymen under very difficult circumstances I kept thinking that all this would not have happened if the United States would not have interfered in Iran with the aim of getting their hands on the oil there. You might not think that this is a relevant criticism of the film, but I beg to differ. There is only a couple of fleeting seconds in which Affleck even addresses that this is how the troubles between the U.S. and Iran began and the reason that the anti-American fervor grew to such a state that many U.S. citizens were taken hostage. He totally avoids that important fact probably realizing that Americans would not appreciate this truth and would probably avoid the film as a result. I guess this was not really to be a lesson in history despite the fact that it was something that actually took place. Affleck has Hollywoodized the whole thing in order to make it sellable.
There are also several stereotypes that I found disturbing. For instance, the overall depiction of Iranians is slanted. To me they all seemed radical, shifty and dangerous. Then there is the moment when he shows a woman in hijab eating KFC. As if to infer that the people of Iran embrace Western ideals and culture. We are to believe that these are people who really wanted the U.S. to rescue them, but were afraid to ask out loud.
-Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account
-Rescued From Tehran: We Were There
-The CIA and Hollywood Connection
-Escape From Iran: The Hollywood Option