In the midst of the Chicago Film Festival I squeezed in the highly touted and commercially successful “Argo”, a film that captures the explosive and traumatic events revolving around the Iran hostage crisis; November 4,1979, the American embassy in Tehran, was stormed by Iranians, posing as students, the saga lasted 444 days; six escaped and found refuge in the Canadian embassy. “Argo” is the enactment of those who got away and the ruse perpetrated by the C.I.A. to accomplish their incredulous salvation.
Instead of judging “Argo” on its historical veracity I chose to view it solely on its “film” attributes, and it shines. Ben Affleck (admittedly, I have always been a fan, even liking the catastrophic bomb, “Pearl Harbor”) stars and directs this scenario, buried until President Bill Clinton declassified it in 1997. From the onset “Argo” is true to the times: sideburns, ubiquitous smoking, 1980 technology; in today’s world this endeavor would have backfired, immediately and profoundly.
Affleck is brilliant in creating a narrative where the conclusion is known but the process cloudy; commencing with historical information about Iran, the Shah and America’s involvement in the region, culminating with the Ayatollah’s triumphant return, masterfully incorporating film footage of the horrific debasement of the interned Americans; youthful David Brinkley and Ted Koppel ambushing the communication limelight with their iconic, daily reporting.
Affleck is “Tony Mendez” the C.I.A. operative who executes the preposterous plot of rescuing 6 Americans (disguised as Canadian filmmakers) making a movie in hostile “Iran”; levity and humor inform the creation of “the best bad idea” with John Goodman giving a sensational, jovial portrait of Academy Award winner “John Chambers” (a makeup artist par excellence); Alan Arkin as producer “Lester Siegel” gifts audiences another palliative, perspicuous performance.
“Argo” careens hypnotically from one nerve fraying moment to another; a ride worthy of the price; ultimately remembering, revering those who escaped and the heroes who implemented their survival.