The opening of Argo recaps modern history between Iran and America: we wanted their oil, we crapped on their politics in order to be sure we’d get that oil, and in 1979 the people had finally had enough and kicked our puppet dictator, the Shah, out. When Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to come to the US for medical treatment, furious Iranians took out their anger on the American Embassy, and we got the endless hostage standoff.
Argo is the story of the six Americans from the embassy who managed to flee during the takeover and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s residence. The Iranians are very close to figuring out they don’t have all the Embassy employees they should have. If the Iranians find out the Canadians have the Americans, there’s going to be hell to pay. The Canadian government is going to close down their diplomatic mission anyhow, because the chaos is spreading and pretty soon all North Americans are going to be in the line of fire. The American government can’t do anything overt without inflaming the situation further, so the guys at State come up with plans to get the six Americans out. Such as, they can bicycle their way across Iran.
The experts over at the CIA — such as director and star Ben Affleck — tell the State Department those plans are DOA, and if they go through with it, the Americans are DOA too. At which point the challenge comes: “You have a better idea?”
Hollywood loves having itself portrayed as the good guy, so I expect that this movie has a good shot at being Best Picture next year. I haven’t seen Lincoln and I know perfectly well Big Epic About War And Race is always a lock, but Small Action Pic About Middle East Turmoil is pretty damn relevant too.
There are absolutely no surprises in this movie: there’s a Big Problem, there’s a Big Plan, nobody believes in the Big Plan except the little guys, there are hitches in the plan, but since we know to a T what the plan is we in the audience know how well it’s succeeding.
This movie works so damn well because of 3 things:
- If you remember your history of the time, or you’ve heard any of the publicity about this movie, you know how it’s going to turn out. Since we have no public schools dedicated to memory of the six Americans, you can probably guess how it turns out too. Act 3 is still wildly suspenseful. Seriously, damn good job there, Director Affleck.
- The direction of the action scenes is really good. You know what’s going on at all times and who’s doing what to whom. Seriously, if the whole writer-director-actor thing doesn’t work out for him, someone re-hire Matt Damon as Bourne and have Affleck direct the next one.
- While there are no big surprises in the storytelling, there are some definite fun little ones: historic (John Chambers: special effects guru and CIA helper-ally-facilitator!), character-based (I’ll leave that one to be the fun little twist it turns out to be, but it involves one of the six Americans), and irony-laden (the “feel-good” ending for one of the Iranian characters).
There’s no extraneous character stuff. There’s no derring-do at the CIA (talk about your office job). Argo is reminiscent of the political thrillers of the 70s in more than just art direction (which is awesome, and have I mentioned recently how much the 70s sucked?), and it’s a nice change of pace from the bloated, moronic “political” thrillers that we usually get.Read More