Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cinema 2012: Escape from Tehran

“Argo” may not be a blockbuster or seminal film, but this 2012 movie from actor/director Ben Affleck succeeds in creating the feel of a grand epic.

"Argo" depicts a declassified episode on the fringes of the 1980 Iran hostage crisis. While the main group of 52 Americans remained prisoners of armed Iranian students and revolutionaries for 444 days, six embassy workers were able to flee during the takeover. They hid in Tehran with assistance from the Canadian ambassador. “Argo” is based on the true story of their exfiltration by the CIA. But this is not some gung-ho Rambo rescue fantasy. The spirit here is praiseworthy as the film throughout shows Tehran to be a diverse and bustling capital, of course, one where ruthless revolutionaries have carried the day.

A bearded Affleck plays Tony, a CIA exfiltration specialist. In his portrayal, Affleck is markedly reserved but still wears his hero’s integrity on his sleeve. He gives his character a quiet panache and it is fun to watch Tony interact with upper echelon flunkies of State, Tinseltown and the Iranian Revolution, helped along no doubt by the snappy dialog in Chris Terrio’s script.

In this day of over the top Hollywood FX, you got to love a film where less is more. Although the movie uses archived news footage to summarize the events of the crisis, “Argo” basically recreates the historical era with little more than a few outmoded eyeglass frames and the intermittent sampling of back-in-the-day pop tunes.

While “Argo” pokes fun at Hollywood, the premise of the operation emphasizes the longstanding worldwide influence of the American moviemaking machine, even vis–à–vis nascent militant Islamism.

Among the movie's supporting cast, a nicely coiffed Bryan Cranston wins over the audience as Tony’s CIA boss. But it is Alan Arkin who truly delights as erstwhile Hollywood big shot Lester Siegel, a producer who over a long career in pictures has not lost sight of the big picture. Siegel throws in with Tony and the CIA’s “guy in Hollywood,” a cynical make-up artist played by John Goodman. In a poignant scene, the image of a blindfolded American hostage reminds Siegel of what is truly important: human dignity and freedom. Arkin brings relish to his role, stealing scenes and providing comic relief throughout a movie where the tension doesn’t relent until one of the greatest airplane take-off scenes since “Casablanca.”

Moderate applause greeted the final credits in the theater where I saw “Argo.” It seems an appropriate reaction. Clearly the circumstances of these six Americans, shown in the film helping the Canadian ambassador empty his wine cellar during their ordeal, are quite at odds with the dire situation of the 52 hostages being abused and tormented by their Iranian captors. But this CIA-engineered escape owes it success nonetheless to the bravery and dedication of a government agent who risked everything and by the efforts of a civilian from an industry so often dismissed as profit-obsessed and self-absorbed. As such it is laudable and a reason for pride.

But before I get all weepy about fellow Americans who defend our way of life, let me call to mind the ironic tagline Tony, Siegel & Co. used during the exfil op to help keep on keeping on: “Argo fuck yourself.”

1 comment:

  1. I've heard great things about this film, I need to check it out, great review! Love this blog!