Friday, October 12, 2012

The Best Bad Idea

The new movie Argo is based on a true story of how CIA agent Anthony “Tony” Mendez was able to extract six American embassy workers from Iran during the height of the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1980.  Mendez, played by Ben Affleck (who also directs), comes up with a cover for himself and the six workers, who are hiding at the home of the Canadian ambassador, to pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi action adventure entitled “Argo.”  The plan is for Mendez to fly to Iran, prep the six on their covers, and then catch a flight out of the country via the heavily-guarded Tehran airport.  Sound like a bad idea?  Apparently the CIA thought so too, but it was better than having the six take a 300 mile bike ride to Turkey.

What makes the film and and real-life events so Hollywood, is the way Mendez has to set up the cover.  Relying on his contact with a Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers played by John Goodman, Mendez goes to Hollywood, sets up a production company, hires a producer played artfully by Alan Arkin, creates story-boards and posters, and hosts a press junket.  Almost everything is done except actually shooting the script.  But all the attention to detail is necessary as the film turns into a tense international spy thriller--will Mendez be able to pull it all off when no one is convinced it will work?  

Affleck does a deft acting job of quietly inhabiting Mendez as carrying the burdensome weight of six lives depending on him.  As a director, Affleck is able to capitalize on our American sensibilities in needing a hero and needing to prevail over a brutal enemy.  But Affleck does his homework too by beginning the film with a brief history of Iran and how the U.S. historical manipulation of Iranian leaders and oil interests led to the unrest creating the hostage crisis. As I watched the film, which was interspersed with a lot of real news footage, I was reminded vividly of my own childhood watching the crisis unfold on tv and the yellow ribbons that symbolized solidarity with the hostages.  With this film and his second foray into directing a feature film, it is clear that Affleck has truly arrived as a filmmaker.

Be sure to sit through the credits to get a glimpse of the real life people who experienced these events.

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