Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Argo”

Sorry I didn’t have this up at the right time. As usual, I’ll backlog it so I can pretend I did. I started writing it, but a game of Munchkin with some friends got in the way. I lost. …stupid curses. Anyway, review of “Argo” up today/yesterday, and review of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” up today today.

So, continuing my movie-laden weekend, I went to see “Argo” on Saturday. I know that’s when my review of “Seven Psychopaths” went up, but I’m a day off. Sue me. Anyway, “Argo” looked extremely promising from the trailer, and it did not disappoint.

The premise of the movie centers around a period in American history I realized is simply not discussed in history classes at school, with possible exception of specific history classes in college. Fortunately, “Argo” aims to fill in our ignorance.

After World War II, occupation of Iran by the British ended, and Iran attempted to become a constitutional monarchy. Votes on leaders were had in the late 40s and early 50s. Eventually, Shah Mohammed Mosaddegh came to power and, in 1951/1952, began to nationalize the oil fields in Iran, to the great ire of British and American petroleum companies.

In a great display of corporations influencing government decisions in ways that are STUPID AND IDIOTIC, the oil companies convinced Britain and the US, via the CIA, to instigate a coup in 1953, overthrowing Mosaddegh and allowing the CIA to place a US sympathizer in as shah. For 26 years after, the US backed the leaders of Iran and oil companies forced them to split profits on their oil fields, splits that were likely hugely unfair for Iran. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi  was  put into power to support the US and force westernization of Iran. His policies and the atrocities under his administration eventually led to the 1979 revolution and installation of the Islamic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as leader.

This is all background and history for the meat of “Argo.” During the revolution, the American embassy was invaded and overtaken. The Iran Hostage Crisis lasted 444 days and was one of the more lengthy, trying times for America. It was very public and very tense for the nation. Unknown to the nation, however, was the escape of six Americans from the embassy. They left in the chaos and managed to hide in the Canadian ambassador’s house. “Argo” is the retelling of the true story of trying to get them out of the country.

After the hostage crises reaches far beyond the number of days the State Department expected, they call the CIA for assistance. Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) taps the agency’s best ex-fil agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to help. After talking to his son, he is struck with the idea of filming a sci-fi movie in Iran and pretending the six embassy employees are on the crew for the film. In order to pull this stunt off, they will need to make the movie look as real as possible. That means going to Hollywood, finding a producer, finding a script, faking the entire set up of this being a film they’re definitely going to make, then going to Iran and filling in the Americans.

“Argo” finds itself with a good amount of humor during the Hollywood portions of the film. John Chambers (John Goodman) is a makeup artist that has helped the CIA before and sets Tony up with Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a well-known producer willing to back this fake movie. They create a fake production company and go through all the steps to make the movie seem real. The three of them come up with the phrase “Argo f*** yourself” as a sort of humorous, three musketeers-esque rallying cry, likely to help take their minds off of how dangerous the mission is and how much people depend on them. Still, the dance required to move through Hollywood’s bureaucracy and the commentary of film, as well as the ridiculousness of 1980s sci-fi (seeing a recent explosion of interest due to Star Trek and Star Wars), creates a very humorous set-up.

The humor is mostly gone by the time Tony heads to Iran, dissipated and replace with tension that slowly grows throughout the film. Americans and anyone thought to be in collusion with Americans are dragged off the street and shot or hung many times. Tony, pretending to be Canadian, is forced to convince the six Americans to trust him and to learn their background stories as Canadian film makers in only two or three days. With the clock ticking until the Iranians piece together the mugshot diary with all the employees’ faces in it left shredded at the embassy and the danger of their discovery growing with each passing minute, “Argo” creates a tense, well-paced thriller you’re never 100 percent certain is going to end well.

“Argo” literally had me on the edge of my seat through most of the second half of the film. And I don’t do that for many movies. Against a backdrop of violence and fear, Affleck, who also directed the film, makes the audience desperately want to see these characters successfully leave Iran while forcing doubt to seep in their minds the entire time. Further, Affleck recreates the scenery and characters with an almost uncanny amount of attention given to detail. As the credits begin to roll, the film compares photographs taken from the time of the events with stills of what was seen in the movie, and they’re spot on.

This is the first Affleck directed movie I’ve seen, and it certainly makes me want to go back and view more. I can definitely see “Argo” getting a best director and best cinematography (for recreating the feel of the 1980s) Oscar nomination, if not wins for both. For a tense thriller that still gives laughs, and educates young Americans about a time they likely now little about, give “Argo” a go. One of the best movies of the year, undoubtedly.

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One thought on “Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Argo”

  1. […] HomeAn ExplanationTheatrical ResumeWho Am I? chaoticpen Words in their manyfold forms. « Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Argo” […]

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