Argo is a terrific film that, entertainment values aside, couldn’t be more timely.
With a presidential election looming around the corner, we are brought back to the waning days of the Carter administration and the Iranian hostage crisis that most agree was largely responsible for his loss to Ronald Regan in 1980. I clearly recall the genesis of ABC’s Nightline as Ted Koppel solemnly ticked off the 444 days that American Embassy employees were paraded before the world like sheep about to be slaughtered.
- Argo is one of the movies playing this week at Regency Agoura Stadium 8 Cinemas.
Ben Affleck effectively begins his third film as director with a telling and brilliantly visual historical montage of the history of Iran or Persia as it was called for hundreds of years. Younger viewers need to be reminded that without in any way condoning the horrors of 9/11, Al Qaeda or the Taliban, it was the USA who put Shah Reza Pahlavi in power as a ruthless dictator who murdered thousands of his citizens while millions lived in poverty and constant fear of his secret goon police squad, Savak.
This support of the “Peacock Throne” alone was the proverbial ticking time bomb that finally exploded in the just rage of the Iranian population who, pushed against the wall after decades of suffering and cruelty, took matters to the extreme solution when they chose to topple the Shah’s regime and install Ayatollah Khomeini to power. The rest, as they say, is history, and the world is paying the price for this some 30 years after the revolution that forever changed the way Americans see themselves and the world.
It is the brilliance of Argo that we learn that while the world was glued to their TV sets watching the theatricality of the comings and goings at the American Embassy, another smaller but no less potent drama was taking place. Affleck, directing from a near-perfect script by Chris Terrio, cast himself in the role of Tony Mendez, who is recruited by the government to orchestrate an audacious and highly risky rescue of six State Department employees who somehow escaped being taken hostage and made it to the relatively safe confines of the Canadian Embassy while their colleagues were being terrorized with mock executions and other severe deprivations during their ordeal.
Mendez, who wrote of the rescue in his book The Master of Disguise, came up with the border-line preposterous scenario of posing himself and the six other Americans as a Canadian movie crew in Iran to scout for locations for an absurdist way over-the-top sci-fi fantasy called Argo.
Affleck wisely realized that this is one story that did not need embellishing to make it work just as it happened. The very audaciousness of the plan provides us with a non-stop alternating heart-stopping terror and giddiness that never undercuts or mocks the dead seriousness of what was at stake during this enterprise: human lives.
Flying to Los Angeles, Mendez recruits Oscar-nominated make-up artist (John Goodman) and a crusty, seen-it-all producer (Alan Arkin). Both actors are supreme in their craft and tread a fine line between comedy and tragedy while being 100 percent believable in their roles.
As the planned rescue races towards its almost unbearably edge-of-seat final scenes on the runway of the Tehran airport, we are left with relief and gratitude for the courage in this otherwise forgotten chapter of this American nightmare. Hooray for Hollywood–indeed!
Jeff Klayman is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced in New York, Los Angeles and London. He also wrote the screenplay for the independent film Adios, Ernesto, directed by Mervyn Willis.