Friday, 2 November 2012

Film Review: "Argo" (2012)

"Okay, you got 6 people hiding out in a town of what, 4 million people, all of whom chant "death to America" all the livelong day. You want to set up a movie in a week. You want to lie to Hollywood, a town where everybody lies for a living. Then you're gonna sneak 007 over here into a country that wants CIA blood on their breakfast cereal, and you're gonna walk the Brady Bunch out of the most watched city in the world." This is the premise of this declassified story of Argo. This thriller film starring and directed by Ben Affleck. The movie is based loosely on former Central Intelligence Agency operative Tony Mendez's historical account of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. The film is about the dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

Due to the revolutionary overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran due to his absolute monarch rule over the country. This brought the country economic, cultural and political issues which then united opposition against the Shah and led to his overthrow. Now diagnosed with cancer, the Shah then took political asylum in the United States. Outraged the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line demanded that the Shah return to Iran for trial and execution. The U.S. maintained that the Shah, who died less than a year later in July 1980, had come to America only for medical attention. The group's other demands included that the U.S. government apologize for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran, for the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq (in 1953), and that Iran's frozen assets in the U.S. be released. The initial takeover plan was to hold the embassy for only a short time, but this changed after it became apparent how popular the takeover was and that Khomeini had given it his full support. Some attribute the Iranian decision not to release the hostages quickly to U.S. President Jimmy Carter's "blinking" or failure to immediately deliver an ultimatum to Iran. His immediate response was to appeal for the release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds and to share his hopes of a strategic anti-communist alliance with the Islamic Republic. As some of the student leaders had hoped, Iran's moderate Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and his cabinet resigned under pressure just days after the event. On the day the hostages were seized, six American diplomats, Robert Anders, Cora Amburn-Lijek, Mark Lijek, Joseph Stafford, Kathleen Stafford and Lee Schatz, evaded capture and remained in hiding at the Swedish and Italian embassies. In 1979, the Canadian Parliament held a secret session for the first time since World War II in order to pass special legislation allowing Canadian passports to be issued to some American citizens so that they could escape. In cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency who used the cover story of a film project, the six American diplomats boarded a flight to Z├╝rich, Switzerland, on January 28, 1980. Their escape and rescue from Iran by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor has come to be known as the "Canadian Caper". The CIA enlisted its disguise and exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez, to provide a cover story, documents, appropriate clothing, and materials to change their appearance. Mendez worked closely with Canadian government staff in Ottawa, who forwarded the passports and other supporting material to the Canadian embassy through a Canadian diplomatic courier. Mendez then flew to Tehran with an associate to assist with the rescue. There were alternate passports and identities for a variety of scenarios, but the cover story selected had the six being a Hollywood crew scouting movie locations. The elaborate back-story involved a film named Argo, for a Middle-Eastern feel, and a functioning office in Hollywood set up with the help of John Chambers, a veteran Hollywood make-up artist. The script used had been based on the science fiction novel Lord of Light. The six were told that telephone calls to the "Studio Six" office in Los Angeles would be answered. Display ads for the "Studio Six" production were placed in Hollywood publications and Cora Lijek carried one paper as part of her cover materials. (The movie scenario was considered one way to get an armed team into Tehran to retake the embassy.)

The film stars Affleck as CIA specialist Tony Mendez with Bryan Cranston as CIA supervisor Jack O'Donnell, Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel, and John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers. The cast gave strong performances. Affleck was interesting as the film's central protagonist Tony Mendez but I thought it was unusual or inaccurate to think that the actual figure was Latin American where as Affleck is an American with English, Irish, Scottish, and German ancestry. But the performance overall was brilliant. Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel was comical as always, going back to earlier films such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Get Smart (2008). Finally John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers was fascinating and enjoyable as his performance brought a side to the figure that I myself never knew about. The rest of the cast were all superb and intense and deserve merits in their own ways.

Tense, smartly written, and wonderfully cast, Argo proves that Ben Affleck is a director to be reckoned with. Ben Affleck proves his directing credentials in this gripping dramatic thriller, drawing strong performances from the excellent cast and bringing this untold story to the screen. The film’s intense action scenes convey an ideal balance between kineticism and clarity aided by Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and William Goldenberg’s editing.

Simon says Argo receives:

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