“Argo” is a well-crafted nail-biter drama that this reviewer predicts will
be a box office success. Because the good guys outsmart the bad guys. And the
good guys R us.
Flashback to 1979. Iran, having overthrown its U.S.-backed playboy Shah and
installed the radical Islamist Ayatollah Khomeini, bring their anti-Western
backlash literally to the doors of the U.S. embassy. The employees trapped
inside realize there is a crisis brewing, and try desperately to shred the
sensitive documents before they ignominiously flee the premises. Except that
only 6 employees ever got that chance. The rest were captured when the angry
mob stormed the gates, and took the rest as hostages.
The 6 make their way to the Canadian embassy, where they are taken in and
sheltered, which makes the State Department happy. But the CIA guys are
thinking that a rescue op needs to be developed. The trouble is, there are
nothing but bad ideas, because no foreigners are allowed in Iran right now,
anyway, for any reason, be that agronomist advisors (it’s winter) or
missionaries (really bad idea) or merchants (they have their own). So one
creative operative, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the best bad idea:
pretend the 6 are part of a Canadian film crew. Except somehow this has to
look like a real Hollywood-sponsored production. So they actually go to the
trouble to take a dead script out of the bone pile, something sci/fi about
space invaders, and promote it and cast it and have a fake read-through with
the gullible press present, all to create an illusion that would enable Mr.
Mendez to fly into Tehran and manage to get the 6 trapped Americans out of
It was a dismal time for President Carter; he kept trying to negotiate with
the terrorists, to no avail, and the economy at home was spiraling out of
control, and he just looked inept: a nice guy who was in way over his head
(and unfortunately, that collective memory ossifies into historical
perception). The CIA was so desperate to do something that it approved this
cockamamie scheme, and it almost didn’t work. And they almost got cold feet
and quit in the middle of it. But its small success was one of the silver
linings in the whole diplomatic cloud that became the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
Ben Affleck is both star and director, and he excels at both. The action is
taut, the story is credible, the characters look so much like the “real”
people involved that they even do a photographic montage at the end,
demonstrating how close to “real” life we are here. But the viewer needs
no reminder how real this feels; anybody who lived through that time still has
a sour taste in the mouth because of it. “Argo” provides just enough salt
to make the memory palatable.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,