comment 1

Argo.

In 1979, Iranians stormed the US Embassy in the capital of Tehran and took 52 hostages who were held captive until their release on inauguration day in 1981. An additional six diplomats escaped and took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador who bravely welcomed them in, to much risk of their own (their lives for one, but also the potential for Canada to be pulled publicly into the ongoing Middle East crisis). This movie, the third by director Ben Affleck, is the fascinating story of their rescue via a plan – which was declassified by President Clinton in 1997 -that was so crazy and implausible it HAD to work. Obviously anyone working in the film industry can relate to this story of how a faked movie production was the core to the rescue of these brave Americans, but because of Mr. Affleck’s excellent directing chops that were showcased in his last film The Town (one of my favorites from 2010), and because of some of his acting choices over the years, it feels quite fitting he took the helm for this story. To me he has a knack of choosing projects that could either be overly dry (see Good Will Hunting) or dark (The Town) and making them just a tad more accessible if you well, without losing any artistic integrity. It’s a hard balance to strike, to make stories that would never hit the radar of the average movie-goer, and make them interesting and engrossing, and in a film like this, informative. Affleck’s upbringing in blue collar Boston and being thrown into the movie industry seemingly out of nowhere at the age of 26 appears to benefit him greatly, understanding from experience how the every day audience can potentially be drawn to stories like this. So far in his directing choices he never looks down at the audience, he has an understanding of how to pull them into otherwise potentially stuffy material by simply knowing the audience, a quality not enough filmmakers have. As I was watching Argo I was reminded – maybe from being in the same theater – of the utter travesty that was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a gigantic mess of a film that took a potentially gripping story of spying and espionage, and made it utterly boring. Maybe that’s just the British sensibility, I’m not sure, but it was an epic fail no matter how much the critics couldn’t get enough of it. Argo gave that impression to me just during the first few minutes, but Affleck quickly conveys the totalitarian claustrophobia that hangs over Tehran brilliantly and at pretty much every turn of this film you feel the pressure the diplomats were in. You are right there with them hunkered down in the ambassador’s residence, waiting, scared to even look outside from fear of being seen. You feel the fear airing it’s way through the windows, and you feel, even when you know they are going to escape or that they could be there for years on end, that their time could be up at any moment – good or bad. That is the sign of a good film to me, when you know how it’s all going to end – it’s in the history books, or you’ve at least read the basic premise of this movie – and yet you are still, as the old saying goes, on the edge of your seat. My heart was racing, I was shifting in my seat, my legs were shaking – I was a nervous wreck, especially at the end, even though I knew it was going to be a very happy one. Believe me, I’m giving nothing away by revealing this: THEY ESCAPE! It doesn’t matter in terms of the film that you know this already, what matters is learning how they escaped, and experiencing it like you are right there with them. This is what Affleck set out to do in my view, and thus the film is a complete success. The events of the Iranian hostage crisis were of course a highly charged political event as well, especially as it occurred during the presidential campaign which involved two bitter primaries on both sides, and then the eventual general election between President Carter and Governor Reagan, and one of my fears of this movie was that it may take sides. Luckily that doesn’t happen, with Affleck very softly and briefly exploring not only how years of American interventionism with Iranian affairs led to this mess at least in part, but also how these patriots were caught in the middle, doing their jobs on behalf of the country. It’s a brave and isolating way to lead one’s life and the message of how under-respected diplomats like these are, stationed in every country across the globe, on every political side, is conveyed perfectly. No matter your political stripe, and those of the subjects in this film, you will be rooting for them, you will be “praying” they make it out alive, and you will walk out with an utmost respect for what these people do. Of course the cast is top notch, including Affleck (CIA specialist Tony Mendez), but more importantly Allan Arkin who brings “comedic relief” as the film producer that green-lights the faux film production of ‘Argo’, John Goodman as a Hollywood make-up expert, and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad‘s Walter White) as Mendez’s supervisor at the CIA. This kind of story and film has the the potential to be very heavy, tedious, boring and overwrought. But under what seems to be the increasingly expert directorial skill of Affleck, it’s informative, it’s important, it’s gripping, it’s fair, its fun, and it’s even funny. It’s everything a movie should be – you learn and you have a good time – the perfect popcorn film for the nerd in ALL of us. Mission very much accomplished. I highly recommend seeing this film, and as a result I shall give it 95 standby wigs for Affleck – the glue that ties this movie together.

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