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2012 thriller directed by Ben Affleck.

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A Fake Movie, a Real Rescue Mission

  • Oct 26, 2012
Star Rating:

In late 1979, at the height of the Iranian Revolution, fifty-two Americans were taken prisoner and held hostage by Islamic militants after they seized control of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The six diplomats that managed to evade capture took shelter in the homes of various “friendly country” ambassadors, including that of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. The covert plan to rescue them, a joint venture between the government of Canada and the CIA, involved the recruitment of an American disguise expert named Tony Mendez. In 1980, he orchestrated an elaborate rescue mission, one that involved the production of a phony science fiction film called Argo; once arriving in Tehran with forged Iranian visas, he would give the six Americans Canadian passports and have them pose as a film crew scouting for locations.
As added insurance, a script was written, Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers assisted in setting up a functioning office at a Los Angeles movie studio, and ads for the film were placed in trade papers. The rescue mission was a success, but both the Canadian and American governments kept the CIA’s involvement under wraps in order to ensure the safety of the remaining hostages, who wouldn’t be released until January of 1981. Although the Argo cover story was eventually exposed, the CIA’s role in the mission would not be made public until 1997, the year it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Even President Jimmy Carter, who obviously knew of the mission from the very start, was forced to remain silent.

This rescue mission, dubbed the Canadian Caper, has been dramatized in Ben Affleck’s Argo, easily one of the year’s best films. Although not an action film in the traditional sense, it has such a superb sense of pacing that it will effectively keeps us on the edge of our seats in suspense. This is especially true during the last half hour or so, which takes the characters through one harrowing situation after another; just when we think we can stop biting our nails, we discover that we have only entered another phase, and the anticipation builds yet again. The film is also surprisingly funny, screenwriter Chris Terrio having worked in some very clever zingers aimed directly at the world of showbusiness. There’s hilarious irony in the fact that Hollywood, known for illusion and fantasy, was instrumental in convincing the Iranian government that a phony film was actually in production.
Affleck has cast himself as Mendez, a weary but responsible man who can easily spot the fundamental flaws in all options proposed by the State Department for rescuing the hostages. It isn’t until he switches his TV dial to Battle of the Planet of the Apes that he conceives of a radical idea: To have the hostages pose as Canadian filmmakers scouting locations in Iran. In due time, he flies to Los Angeles and teams up with John Chambers (John Goodman), known not only for his makeup work in the Apes films but also for his expertise as a World War II medical technician, repairing faces and fashioning prosthetic limbs, and for his cooperation with the CIA, specifically in creating disguises. Mendez also teams up with veteran producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a cantankerous man who, at this stage of the game, knows how to cut through the B.S.

The scenes in Tehran represent a delicate balancing act between politics, character development, dialogue, and the actual execution of the rescue mission. Affleck pulls it off splendidly, never allowing the film to become too much of one thing and not enough of the other. The six escapees (Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishe, and Christopher Denham) are intelligently written, each on an emotional roller coaster ride that takes them from fear to skepticism to mistrust to cautious optimism. In a lesser film, they would be assigned narrative roles that would make them little more than caricatures; one would be the incurable pessimist, another would be the secretive traitor, another still would be the religious zealot, and so on and so forth. Ambassador Ken Taylor, as portrayed by Victor Garber, speaks volumes with his subtlety. Here’s a man who knows he’s in a desperate situation and yet must maintain a façade of normality.
Although the film pokes fun at Hollywood, an easy target if ever there was one, there’s also the sense that it’s simultaneously being celebrated. Consider the opening scene, in which a brief history of Iran’s political turmoil is reenacted via a series of storyboards. This serves as a framing device for a scene much later in the film, where one of the escapees tries to placate a highly suspicious Iranian airport security guard by showing him the phony storyboards drawn for the production of Argo. The guard and his men stare at them wondrously, as if beholding some rare and sacred artifact. Indeed, there is something magical about the process of filmmaking; entire worlds are created from nothing but words typed on a piece of paper. The genius of Argo is that it keeps audiences aware of that magic while at the same time thrilling and educating them.


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November 02, 2012
I am actually a little upset with myself that I missed this on opening weekend. Trying to reschedule my weekends so I can make time for this one.
October 28, 2012
Very interesting perspectives!
More Argo reviews
review by . October 12, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
If Argo did anything besides make me grab a complete stranger in the movie theater for fear of the hostages lives, it was prove once and for all that Ben Affleck is a great director.  He has proven his stuff in the past with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, but Argo has affirmed that he can direct the crap out of anything.  It has the perfect mix of tension, action, drama, and laughs and may be one of the best movies I have seen all year.  You may expect a dry telling of a hostage …
Quick Tip by . May 31, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
One of the films that I had missed in theaters was director Ben Affleck's "Argo", which by now have won the best picture award in the 2013 Oscars.      I realize that I am late in writing a full review for this film. "Argo" is an espionage drama based on real-events that took place in the late 70's and even has given some light to the tensions between Iran and the U.S. back then.      The film is impeccably executed, Affleck succeeds …
review by . December 29, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Argo doesn't pump the brakes on any short notice. It's not one sided, it doesn't force the viewer to think more than it needs to, and it sure avoids a hostage crysis within the borders of our beloved theaters. It comfortably delivers a great dose of adrenaline by polishing one of the most interesting CIA stories of hot-zones extractions and intelligence gathering ever revealed to the press.             Ben Affleck, unlike in his career as …
review by . March 26, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
Secret operation thrillingly brought to the screen
During the 1979 take-over of the American Embassy in Tehran, six Americans escape and are hidden in the Canadian Embassy. The CIA hatches a plot to get them out by having them masquerade as members of a Canadian sci-fi film project.      What a stunning movie. It is unbearably tense and the ending left me breathless and in tears. Director/Star Ben Affleck does a wonderful job and it's all the more harrowing because it's a true story. John Goodman and Alan Arkin play Hollywood …
review by . October 12, 2012
As a small child, I can remember the Iranian hostage crisis as it dominated the news media for over a year. While I did not understand the political atmosphere behind it, I did understand that a group of our embassy staff were being held prisoner in a foreign land for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Director and star Ben Affleck has brought a new side to the story to light in the form of his new film “Argo”, which is based upon true events which have recently become …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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