Mon. October 15
Argo: A Great Movie Despite a Few Hollywood Cliches
On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking more than fifty U.S. diplomats working there hostage. Miraculously, six of our ex-pats slipped out a side door during the confusion that day and ended up in the home of the Canadian ambassador where they hid under threat of probably execution should they be caught.
Less than three months later, those same six Americans–now posing as the Canadian film crew for a fictional science-fiction movie–were flying to Zurich, Switzerland and sweet freedom. The audacious mission was dubbed the “Canadian Caper,” both because our neighbors to the north lent a very real and meaningful hand and also because if the Iranians had learned that the entire thing was conducted by our Central Intelligence Agency our hostages’ lives would have been at serious risk. Information about the daring rescue remained sealed and classified until 1997.
Ben Affleck’s new film Argo is the dramatic retelling of CIA agent Tony Mendez’s efforts to bring our people safely home.
I found this to be a very interesting, compelling, and suspenseful flick. Affleck, a much better director (The Town, Gone Baby Gone) than actor, stars as Agent Mendez and does a serviceable job in the lead role. The rest of the cast is one competent-to-outstanding actor/actress after another. Alan Arkin is the Hollywood producer who teams with John Goodman’s makeup artist character to form a fake movie production company to throw the Iranian government off the CIA’s scent while providing the stranded Americans with a “legitimate” cover story. Also of note is Bryan Cranston’s performance as Affleck’s superior officer at Langley.
It’s no easy task to take an historical event, whose ending is public knowledge, and fashion a film that leaves the audience glued to their seats. Ben Affleck has accomplished this in a big way.
That said, there were a few bones I need to pick with Argo. For starters–and this is by no means exclusive to this particular film–if you take it from Hollywood, nearly all male characters who serve in the military, police force, etc. are bad dads and lousy husbands. Whether it’s Jack Bauer in 24, Robert Duvall in The Great Santini, or John McClaine in Die Hard, it’s impossible for screenwriters to conceive of a civil servant who is able to maintain healthy human relationships with those closest to him.
To be fair, I’m not intimately familiar with the parenting skills of real-life Agent Tony Mendez, but it feels a bit too contrived for the screenwriter of Argo to pencil Mendez in as the “separated” husband and guilt-ridden father Affleck portrays him to be. I realize that it makes for a nice character arc, and I fully appreciate the element of sacrifice embedded into the job description of those who serve their country, but it is possible to have a difficult job and retain normal relationships, right?
On the whole, Argo does a solid job of keeping politics out of the story it is telling, but there are montage scenes at the very beginning and very end that leave something to be desire as far as full and unbiased context goes. One quick example: there is a very brief mention before the credits roll of the fact that the remaining hostages were released from captivity 444 days after being capture, on January 20, 1981. That was the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in, and the hostages were released within the same hour of President Reagan’s inaugural address. This was a big deal at the time.
A minor omission? Perhaps. But my point here is simply to remind the reader that history matters and provides us with a fuller context than what Hollywood often portrays.