20 December 2012

Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’

Actors who turn director or even direct themselves seem to yield good results – for example George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March. Ben Affleck’s Argo is no exception. It is the story of an operation carried out by the CIA with Canadian help to retrieve six American diplomats from Tehran in1980. They had gone into hiding in the Canadian embassy after the sack of the US embassy by Revolutionary Guards. Over 90 other personnel were held for 444 days but the six were exfiltrated with the help of Tony Mendez, a CIA expert (played by Affleck) whose plan revolved around passing off the fugitives as a Canadian film team scouting locations for a sci-fi movie, ‘Argo’ ,with a Middle Eastern setting.

Because we know that the mission was a success, Argo it isn’t so much a will-they-won’t-they as a how-will-they-get-out-of-that-one, but the action in Tehran is just as exciting nonetheless. As it unfolds, there are lesser cliff-hangers back in the US in the form of the machinations between the CIA, State Department and White House, familiar of course to fans of The West Wing and Homeland. While in Hollywood, the Argo crew’s leading lights, played by Alan Arkin and John Goodman, get some of the best lines in the film. The riots outside the US embassy and in the bazaar (actually filmed in California and Istanbul) are all too convincing.

Some people might not care for the ‘USA 7 Iran 0’ undertones of the film’s conclusion but its opening bande dessinée-style backgrounder on Iranian history pulls no punches on the US or UK. Less seriously, a post here earlier this year about The Artist pointed out the use of the HOLLYWOODLAND sign, correct for its late 1920s setting. As Mendez flies into Hollywood we see the later HOLLYWOOD sign almost derelict. But in fact it had been restored to its current state in the late 70s before the hostage problem arose. So remember, Argo is a dramatization and a good one, not a documentary. Would all the secrets of a successful exfiltration ever be revealed? I doubt it. But Argo certainly deserves its current status as an emerging 2013 Oscar front-runner.

Stay for the credits which start with a sequence of contemporary photographs alongside equivalent stills from the film.

UPDATE 1 March 2013

Argo has now won various awards culminating with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Best Picture Oscar this week. Its veracity has come under scrutiny as its profile has risen. For example, Glenn Greenwald from the Guardian has drawn attention to this post on the Wide Asleep in America blog.

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