Argo, the Iranian hostage escape caper film directed by Ben Affleck, a Warner Brothers release, opens with the ‘70s era WB logo. In the mid -60s Warner Brothers was known as Warner Brothers Seven Arts. Do you know what the seven classical arts are?
Visual Arts. Poetry. Sculpting. Dance. Music. Architecture. And when those six arts are combined you have Theatre Arts. And that includes cinema. The logo that opens Argo is from the ‘70s when WB was the child of Warner Communications. The logo has been updated to credit the current parent Time Warner. Argo will be one of the most talked about films of the year.
A combination of split-second editing, a great script, and focused direction give Argo a thriller heartbeat. Argo follows the efforts of CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) to rescue six employees of the American Embassy in Iran during the event known as the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which took place from November 4, 1979 through January 20, 1981 when 54 hostages were imprisoned after the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. Only the six people Mendez wants to assist to surreptitiously fly out of the country are the only ones who escaped the initial siege of the diplomatic compound and who’re now holed up at the Canadian ambassador’s (Victor Garber) home.
Argo conjures a rah-rah patriotic attitude only the mission is not the typical secret agent sent to eliminate a security threat. This is an assignment that purely relies on identity falsification, subterfuge and espionage skills. The ugly side of the covert agency coin unrolls in the opening historical montage that depicts how the democratically elected president of Iran in 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was subsequently overthrown through internal actions of MI6 and the CIA after Mosaddegh nationalized the oil industry. Flash forward to the overthrow of the Western Puppet, Shah Pahlavi a generation later. Ruhollah Khomeini now in power, demands the return of the Shah (in exile in San Antonio and other luxurious American settings) in return for the hostages.
Despite the seriousness of the proceedings Argo manages to add levity by playing out the actual events that allowed the six hostages and Mendez to escape. Mendez hooks up with a Hollywood asset to the agency, John Chambers (John Goodman) an Academy Award® winning make-up artist to create a fake film that needs foreign locations. Thus the guise of a location scout and film crew with a reason to be in Iran and also to leave via the airport. (Chambers won the AA for Planet of the Apes in 1968.) At one point the now-disguised fugitives go on a location scout of the most popular and crowded trading fair in Tehran. Their guide tells them that this spot has existed for 8000 years. You only want world peace immediately just so you can go shopping there.
Joining the fake movie (the titular Argo) is producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin totally owning every scene he’s in). CIA personal are played by Bryan Cranston and Chris Messina while Kyle Chandler plays, Chief of Staff to President Carter, Hamilton Jordan. The real revelation though are the actors playing the six on-the-run employees, including Tate Donavan, Clea DuVall, and Rory Cochrane, mainly because you don’t even recognize them until you’re reading the credits.
Whether you view Argo as a polemic about diplomatic relations, a spy thriller or a send-up of behind-the-scenes-Hollywood-machinations you cannot deny that the movie holds you in its spell from beginning to end with a calm stable hand. Argo celebrates the politics of freedom while also delving into the bureaucracy that seemingly is at constant odds with same.
– Michael Bergeron