Monday, September 29, 2014

Argo (2012)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions page.

The movie starts in November of 1979.  Protesters are outside the American embassy’s compound and those inside are worried.  The former Iranian shah is in America for medical reasons and the Iranians want him back.  Six of the embassy workers manage to escape, but everyone else is taken hostage.  Those six manage to find refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador.  The U. S. State Department wants to get them out, but there’s no really plausible way to do that.  Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, finds reasons that each proposal might fail.

One night, while watching one of the Planet of the Apes movies, he realizes that movies will occasionally need to film on location.  This gives him the idea of posing as a studio employee meeting some ‘Canadian’ counterparts in Iran.  After a few days of ‘scouting’ for a location, they’ll all catch a flight back to North America.  Not only does Mendez have to train six people to learn their cover stories, but they’re operating under a deadline.  (It won’t take long for the hostage takers to realize that they’re short six hostages.)

There are also a lot of technical details to worry about.  Mendez brings in some Hollywood people to help sell the cover story.  They buy an actual script to use, hire real actors and go through the process of pretending to make a movie.  The even set up an office for Iranian officials to call when the need arises.  There are also bureaucratic problems that they just have to hope will resolve themselves.

Part of the problem with movies based in history is that you may have some sense of how it ends.  Argo tells part of what went on with the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which took place when I was only a few years old.  I saw the movie with my brother, who was only a few months old at the time.  There were a few references that he missed, like to Rock Hudson.  I’m sure that I missed one or two, myself.  (I have no memory of Carter as president.)

Most of the movie focuses on the rescue attempt.  We get to see the hostages a little before they meet Mendez, but it’s mostly to show that they’re getting cabin fever.  They can’t leave the ambassador’s residence for fear of someone recognizing them.  Once they’re out ‘scouting’ for a location, they have to stay in character the whole time.  (On that note, I’m not sure how much of the film was done for dramatic effect.  There were a few tense scenes where the six ‘houseguests’ were out and almost caught.)

One thing I thought about was the screenwriter whose film was purchased to use for the project.  I felt a little bad that it was purchased with the intent of not really making it.  My brother pointed out that it did help to save lives, but the mission was classified.  Mendez, who came up with the idea, was awarded the Intelligence Star, but couldn’t actually take it home.  This is how classified it was.  I don’t imagine that the State Department was going to let some screenwriter in on their little secret.  I’m sure projects fall through all the time, but it must be so weird to find something like that out years later.

I do recommend seeing the movie.  I liked seeing it in theaters.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to posting it until after it came out on DVD.  Another thing I noticed is that the Canadian government did a lot to help us, even jyst by letting the six Americans stay there.  I’m not sure how much that affected their relationship with the Iranians.  Definitely rent this movie if you get the chance. 

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