In 1979, Iranian revolutionaries storm into the US embassy, taking many hostages. However, six Americans escape and find refuge in the Canadian embassy. The CIA is given the task of getting them safely out of Iran, but there seemed to be no good ideas. The best of these bad ideas comes to Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directs) from his son’s love of sci-fi movies: claim that the six are part of a film crew in Iran to scout out locations. To pull this off, Mendez will need help from Hollywood, the president, the media and lots of luck to make them look like a real Canadian film crew.
Before you scoff at the absurdity of Hollywood aiding the CIA, remember that this is based on true accounts. Mendez was a real CIA agent, who was later awarded for his efforts in this mission and the whole operation was deemed classified until the late nineties.
Alan Arkin plays Lester Seigel, a seasoned film producer helping Mendez make his fake movie look real. He comes across as cantankerous old man, comfortable with himself, knows the ins and outs of the film industry with a hidden heart of gold. While I love Arkin’s performances, this one didn’t scream Oscar status to me. Sure, he does it well, but it doesn’t feel like anything new or exciting. However, he does deliver the best lines in the film, like always.
What the film excels at, and shows off at the end, is how accurate the film’s setting and characters are. It seems that a lot of attention was given to making the characters on screen look nearly identical to their real life counterparts over thirty years ago. Iconic photographs of the time are recreated in the film, including the moment the embassy wall was breached, a man hanging from a construction crane and the deteriorated Hollywood sign. However, the Hollywood sign was reconstructed in 1978, a year before this film’s setting begins, but I see Affleck’s idea incorporating that image to show how the film industry had lost its golden age luster and in need of reinventing.
While I appreciate this film and think that it was done to a high standard, I didn’t find myself connecting with it well. It was taught, smart, visually compelling and kept me wondering how they would pull off the next round without getting caught. There was just something missing that left me emotionally disconnected. Perhaps the film didn’t get us close enough to the six hostages, or Mendez himself. Or maybe that disconnection comes between the safe, pretend world of Hollywood and the harsh, volatile world of revolutionary Iran. Bringing the two together is so jarring, and blurs boundaries.
Argo is nominated for seven Oscars. While the film has a large following, I would not bet on it winning Best Picture. Lately the film that wins Best Picture also wins best director, and sadly (leaving much of film community shocked) Ben Affleck was left out of that race. But hey, this could break that long standing curse.
“Bad news, bad news. Even when it’s good news, it’s bad news. John Wayne in the ground six months and this is what is left of America.”