Worst. Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Ever.
The story of how the CIA created a fake science fiction movie as a cover in order to rescue Iranian hostages is a story that has become legend in the world of internet movie discussions. Over the years, the story became repeated and linked to again and again, building as articles and books sprang up to be linked to, blowing the minds of movie fans new to the tale each time it appeared. It’s one of those true life things that is impossible to make up, as it sounds too far fetched to be real. But it is real, and it’s so real it has passed on to legend. Like all good legends, someone made a movie about it!
Argo is both the name of the fake CIA movie and the name of this film. History comes alive as we enter the world of 1979-1980. From the old school three bar Warners production logo to the final scene of thousands of dollars of vintage toys, we are in the past. There is a very quick comic book history lesson of Iran’s history up to 1979, followed by vintage news reports of US/Iranian tensions that will be sprinkled throughout the film to show the building tension between both sides. It is interesting how the US/Iranian tensions are still relevant now over 30 years later, the same basic issues and anger are present.
Too busy being awesome to listen to the haters
Cast members become unrecognizable beneath their period haircuts and clothing, make up applied to best ape their real world counterparts. The fashions, the cars, Tom Brokaw with black hair, typewriters, everyone smoking everywhere, the Hollywood sign in ruins, it’s all there. Events I only have the faintest recall of due to my other priorities of being in the terrible twos.
But the film is more than a picture of the past. The cast is solid. Affleck put together a powerhouse ensemble of great actors. They blend into the roles.
We open just as the Shah has been overthrown, people are rioting in the streets as revolution runs rampant. The US embassy is besieged both inside from people wanting visas out, to the mob outside yelling at the gates. But they come over the top, storming the compound and capturing everyone. Six US employees manage to escape and hide out, eventually settling at the home of the Canadian ambassador. The Iranians don’t know anyone is missing, yet. But there is no easy way to get them out. So it’s time to come up with some plans.
This is how Hollywood really works.
Crazy times call for crazy plans, and Tony Mendez is the man with the plan to make all of those look sane. All other options are easily dismissed, but Mendez crafts a scheme to get the missing hostages out via pretending to be a fake film crew. Jack O’Donnell is wary, but knows there isn’t a better option despite the risks, gives the go ahead. But to do that, they have to set the film up, for real. That means making the most convincing fake movie possible. They turn to help from John Chambers, who finds Lester Siegel, a producer willing to help for free despite knowing that no one will know what happened.
Together, they get a script, posters, storyboards, offices, and even set up press events so the film will appear in real trade magazines as evidence of a Canadian film production. It’s the cheapest, shoddiest science fiction fantasy Star Wars rip off with blue Wookiees and droids, but it features the required element: need of sets that are Middle Eastern.
This gives the cover to go into Iran to pretend to be scouting locations, and get everyone out as members of the crew.
But things aren’t that simple, situations change and revolutions breed paranoia. Danger can lurk from everywhere. Affleck does a great job in building tension without resorting to hackneyed action scenes. Letting the story be the tension. The hostages are real people, with hopes and fears. Things are happening outside their control, the danger could come from anywhere. Imagine living your life waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Uncertainty is everywhere, the US government is panicking because it’s helpless, Carter’s busy fighting for his life in a primary against Teddy Kennedy. The hostage crisis dominates the news throughout the film, including local flavor interviews with people who sound very much like what tea party idiots are blathering about today, Iranian-Americans assaulted in the street by “Real American Patriots”, and a mirror counterpart in the propaganda speeches from Tehran Mary.
Several younger members were confused to the dilapidated state of the Hollywood sign, odd that they didn’t do the simplest of Googling on their smart phones. Affleck included the decaying sign for the same reason he included the many news reports of the chaos of the situation. It’s a metaphor of the state of the world at the time. Everything has broken down, a feeling of helplessness. It’s even why I think he fudged the dates a bit.
Argo builds a world and tells a fantastic story, accomplishing the same thing the real Argo was supposed to do, but wouldn’t have been able to. Truth trumps the fiction, even with events jazzed up for movie format. Argo even touches a bit on making a good story, with a throwaway line about how the demonstrations are staged for the camera, but it works because it gets the ratings. Sort of how the changes to the story work because they make it a better movie. Argo‘s strength is how much it feels like reality, and shows good happening in the middle of a trying time. Sometimes we all need beacons of hope to keep us going. And if you don’t like it, Argo fuck yourself!
This whole film is a prequel to Breaking Bad
(Argo is not the first film about the Canadian Caper, but it is the first one that has the whole story of the CIA involvement. I wonder how weirdly different the 1981 made-for-tv film Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper is, without the declassified information.) Tars has sold out again, as this review was via advanced screening.
Rated 8/10 (presidential, totally not C-3PO, Ayatollah, Fantasy poster, Minotaur doctor, hostage that’s not a hostage, fantasy star, Argoooooo!)
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