So then if The Town was his Bonnie and Clyde, that makes Argo his Reds?
Not quite. To be honest, Argo reminded me much more of Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Both true stories involving the tumultuous Middle East of the 1970s; thankfully, this one with a happy ending.
The year was 1979, the controversial Shah of Iran had been overthrown and was in exile in the United States. This motivated a revolution in the streets of Tehran, demanding his return for punishment and prompting a violent overthrow of the American embassy. Six U.S. diplomats managed to slink away and find refuge in the nearby Canadian embassy. But their safety was precarious to say the least.
Enter Tony Mendez (Affleck), a CIA operative known for extracting friendly hostages from unfriendly places.
After some amusing bureaucratic brainstorming that leads to all talk no action (thank you, Jimmy Carter), Mendez realizes if he doesn’t come up with the plan, our diplomats are cooked.
Then it hits him like a lightning bolt – and your old pal, Lars B, a long time Planet of the Apes fanatic, smiled large.
It’s one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” slices of history that boggles the mind. Especially considering it worked.
The hard part about sitting in a dark, safe, luxuriously appointed movie theatre and enjoying Argo is that it is nearly impossible not to think of the recent tragic and barbaric events in Benghazi, Libya. We lost four brave, self-less Americans this past September 11, including our ambassador, a man who dedicated his career to the troubled region and the people in it who seek liberty. Damn.
The joy in the film comes from all of the sharp Hollywood inside jokes. And there are plenty. Hollywood always makes for such a compliant pinata.
Mendez teamed up with award-winning special effects artist, John Chambers (John Goodman) and has-been Hollywood producer, Lester Siegel, (Alan Arkin) to produce the Trojan horse film project.
Great cast. In particular Arkin, who seems to be having the time of his life on-screen in his twilight years. Such fun to watch an actor so comfortable with who he is.
“If I’m gonna make a fake film, it’s gonna be a fake hit.”
When Mendez asks Chambers how his most recent film did at the box office, he replies “Target audience hated it.” Mendez takes the bait. “Who was the target audience?”
“People with eyes.”
When Mendez wonders aloud why they even need to have a legal screenplay option on a fake film project, Siegel responds “You’re worried about the ayatollah? Try the WGA.”
Affleck the director has made a very credible, well-crafted film from an excellent script. It is obvious he is a fan of such smart throwback political thrillers as Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men.
Affleck the actor gave himself just enough emotional soil to til, but not so much that he had to chew up any scenes to drive the intensity of the narrative. On the contrary. He holds a very calm, steady demeanor throughout the picture, almost a melancholy caused by the hole in his heart from being separated from his young son.
In one of the most poignant scenes of the film, Mendez and Siegel sit on a stair case eating take out. They share with each other their back story, their failed marriages, their strained relationships with their children.
“It’s a bullshit business,” Arkin’s Siegel explains, he’s speaking of Hollywood but we know he means more. “Like coal mining, you come home to your wife and kids and can’t wash it off ya.”
At its core, Argo is a film about purpose. Having one. Something to live for. Something to die for.
It’s who we are as Americans. We do not dictate to others, we liberate others from dictatorships. But it’s heavy lifting and often a mixed bag of curious bed fellows. God bless Ben Affleck for telling this story.
The end of the picture juxtaposes the actors opposite the real people involved in this amazing triumph of ingenuity and boldness. The audience I sat with cheered the final images.
Again, I thought of Benghazi. Calling for help. A call that went unanswered.