ARGO (Ben Affleck, 2012)
As an escapist tale, ARGO works well. Everybody loves a triumph, and ARGO delivers that success story on a silver platter. But when you think about it, most of the film is hell bent on escapism it blatantly ignores the important political issues it gets its premise from.
An exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is called in as adviser on planning a rescue mission of six diplomats trapped in the Canadian Ambassador's house in Iran in 1979, during a highly-publicized raid on the US Embassy in Tehran where all the staff were held hostage. He comes up with an absurd idea of producing a fake movie, and letting everybody know about it, so he can disguise the six as a Canadian film crew, and they will all fly out out of Iran under the Iranians' noses.
The setup deemed next to impossible, but the road to its execution is ridden with equal doses satire and suspense. John Goodman plays real-life Oscar-winning make-up artist John Chambers, while Alan Arkin is a Hollywood producer named Lester Siegel (a fictionalized character) who teams up with Mendez into mounting the ambitious rescue. Both Goodman and Arkin play their parts nicely, with an adequate touch of satire to deconstruct the characters they portray.
The farce works quite nicely- complete with fake posters, fake press con, and real actors who aren't in on the lowdown that the movie is a sham. Once Mendez hops on that plane and lands in Istanbul, Turkey so he can sets things in motion before proceeding to Tehran, the pacing becomes intense.
Meanwhile in Tehran, the six (Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Kerry Bishe, Christopher Denham, Scoot McNairy, and Rory Cochrane) grow weary of their situation. As soon as Mendez arrived, a dissenting opinion further complicated matters. Even some of them do not have confidence they will make it with Mendez's ludicrous idea. "I think my little story is the difference between you and a gun to your head," Mendez quips in rebuttal.
Especially thrilling moments in the film are the question hour where Mendez tested the mastery of each of the six with their cover identities, and the heart-stopping airport chase. Nevertheless, the airport chase is a pigment of imagination of writer Chris Terrio and possibly Affleck, because such never occurred in real life. I do understand though that without it, the film ends on a dry note.
ARGO is entertaining for entertainment's sake. No doubt about it. What I didn't particularly like is the way the film ignored its responsibility for the Iranian revolution, and eventually the mess that led to the US Embassy siege. It was stated in the opening, in flimsy animated manner, and in the subsequent news interviews that the US and the British orchestrated the coup d'etat that installed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, because of oil interests, but the Shah became corrupt beyond definition so the people, mostly Shiite Muslims overthrew him. He escaped, was granted asylum by the US, and has since remained in Egypt with protection by Anwar Sadat until his death in 1980 due to cancer. Meanwhile, exiled cleric Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran to become its new leader.
The main ire of the Iranians is the for the Shah to be returned to Iran and tried for his crimes. What ARGO lacks in its retelling of history is a sense of responsibility. Of course, America is once again the hero, and Canada, which had a great hand in the success of the mission, was reduced in the end into an accessory. I think the film needed at least a bit of owning up to America's greed as a precursor to foreign dispute.
ARGO provided some of the important background details during the opening of the film, and in the process got some of them wrong. Also, such attempt quickly backfired because it ignited probing into the film's accuracy. What came out was that it was stonewalling the issue that caused the hostile takeover of the US Embassy. But as long as the audience is entertained, it does not need to address the elephant in the room. And in the handful of critics who went and saw ARGO, only a handful bravely pointed out this missing element.
I know. This is the part where you say, "it's just a movie".