Friday, October 12, 2012

Factual, ultra tense ‘Argo’ is one of 2012’s top films

By Steve Crum

The rescue of Israeli hostages in 1977’s Raid on Entebbe came to mind at the outset of settling into Ben Affleck’s tautly directed Argo. Both films are based on real events that occurred two years apart, and both are presented in storytelling that flips back and forth from rescue planners to each country’s detained citizens. However, there is a major difference in the two incidents. 

The successful raid on Entebbe (in dictator Idi Amin’s Uganda) is a story focused on a squadron carrying out a precision military rescue laced with machine guns, hand grenades, and gritty combat. Argo’s rescue “force” is one determined CIA agent, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), whose brash and ultimately successful plan is to rescue six Americans in Tehran, Iran. He will do so virtually single handedly--with incredible help from Hollywood movie insiders, no less. It should be no spoiler to reveal the outcome of the rescue since it is historic fact. That said, I admit to having never heard anything about this sidebar story of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, perpetrated by Iran’s infamous Ayatollah Khomeini. 

Chris Terrio’s script, based on writings by Antonio J. Mendez (yes, the same Mendez depicted in the film) and Joshuah Bearman, opens in near documentary style, on Nov. 4, 1979. Militants storm the walls surrounding the U. S. Embassy in Tehran, and take 52 Americans hostage. (They will remain captives for over a year.) But that is not Argo’s real story. Argo focuses on the six Americans who barely escaped and hid out in the Canadian Embassy, also located in Tehran. They are given sanctuary in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). 

Since the Iranians had no vent against Canada, the property was a safe haven. Of course, their presence had to be kept secret. Once the Iranians discovered the six were missing, however, a dragnet to find then ensued. At the same time, our homeland CIA was planning their escape. Realize too that separate negotiations were ongoing regarding the captured 52. 

CIA operative Mendez’s plan turns on a pretty far fetched premise: travel to Tehran alone under the guise of a Canadian filmmaker scouting possible filming locations. Once there, he would visit the Canadian Embassy, and prepare the six “guests” to escape. With the help of Hollywood  studio special effects guru John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) a shelved sci-fi script is chosen, entitled Argo (sort of a B-grade Star Wars), and publicity is immediately put into place for credibility. Even the Hollywood community believes this to be a production in the works. If Hollywood itself believes the ruse, surely the Iranians will too. And so it goes.

Argo is a lesson in near perfect pacing with the first 2/3 in slow, temperate gate with light humor supplied by the characters of Goodman, Arkin, and Bryan Cranston (as CIA honcho Jack O’Donnell). The groundwork is specifically laid out. The film's final 20 minutes are some of the most seat-edged, harried moments of this or any film. Bee-rother. 

The plaudits have to go to Ben Affleck, whose producing/directing/acting trifecta makes Argo one of the top films of the year, and a natural for the Oscar. 
GRADE on an A to F Scale: A
The Argo trailer gives one a good overview:

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