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ARGO review

Posted on November 6th, 2012
Posted on November 6th, 2012

Article by: Coop Cooper

A.K.A. The Small Town Critic

Argo” takes place during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979-1980. Unbeknownst to the Iranians, six U.S. diplomats escaped the initial attack on the U.S. Embassy and hid in the Canadian Ambassador’s home in Tehran until they could be rescued. While the rest of the world watched the larger, very public hostage crisis, the CIA was covertly formulating a plan to extract the six escapees that nobody knew about. CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (director and star Ben Affleck) comes up with a radical plan to pose as a Canadian film producer, infiltrate Iran and have the escapees pose as a film crew for a fake sci-fi film named “Argo” in order to get them out of the country.

This true story is an extraordinary historical footnote which was begging to be made into a film. If this had been as tight and entertaining of a thriller as I was hoping, it could have been the best movie of the year but it had a few flaws that kept me from loving it…

First is the costume design/makeup. There are more distracting hair pieces and fake mustaches than you can shake a stick at. I remember the late 70’s/early 80’s and I recall the distinct fashion but something about the look of these characters seemed cartoonishly phony and overdone.

Likewise there was not enough time to make the six diplomats fully fleshed-out, likable characters. Only Kathy Stafford (played by Kerry Bishé) seemed to show any real emotion because the others were mostly hidden behind bushy mustaches, low-hanging bangs and thick-rimmed glasses. Affleck’s own performance is a study in forced stoicism. Brian Cranston (as CIA handler Jack O’Donnell) spends most of his time raving and stomping around while the other CIA paper-pushers seem to mimic his foul mood with finger pointing and vulgar snipes.

The brightest points come from Mendez’s interactions with Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin in what seems to be a fictional role?). While they mostly amounted to comic relief, the scenes in which they appeared were the most entertaining of the film. Their inside jokes and foul-mouthed observations at least gave Affleck’s stiff character something to work with. Their expertise becomes invaluable in the creation of the “Argo” ruse and I wish the entire film had revolved around them and their involvement, especially since we already know the outcome of the story.

Once Mendez enters Iran, the tension begins, but it is actually more of a slow burn. Some of the stronger scenes involve Mendez teaching the six diplomats how quickly a lack of dedication to their cover stories could get them killed. The race to get them to the airport before the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (suddenly, without warning after 3 months?) figures out their their ploy seemed a bit manufactured but it was definitely intense. I’m sure many other liberties had to be taken to make the story work as a high-tension thriller. Unfortunately they were easy to spot.

Despite its flaws, as a potboiler Hollywood thriller, “Argo” works and watching this exceptional piece of history unfold is a satisfying experience. As a piece of anti-Iranian propaganda, it REALLY works. This is the most damning portrayal of the Islamic Republic of Iran I have seen in a modern film and with the world currently scrambling to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear technology, it couldn’t be more timely. The only sympathetic Iranian character who covers for the Americans is not treated well by her country. The rest of the Iranian characters – even common street vendors – are portrayed as angry and murderously anti-American. Hollywood has handled other non-friendly countries with kid gloves recently (ex. MGM recently spending millions in post-production to change the villain from China to North Korea in the upcoming “Red Dawn” remake) but it appears that Iran is at least one Middle Eastern country that is still fair game.

Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5

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