Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Argo - 3 1/2 stars

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was overrun.  Around 50 people were captured and held hostage.  Before the embassy fell, 6 diplomats were able to escape and they hid out at the Canadian ambassador's house.  The CIA wanted to get them out but since there were a bunch of others being held as hostages, they couldn't just go in and rescue them.  Since the Iranians didn't know they were free, they had to be retrieved secretly. 

CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed) comes up with an idea.  He will fly into Iran with fake passports for the diplomats and they will all fly out together.  Their story will be that they are a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a Star Wars ripoff.  It's a bad idea, but as he says in the movie, "It's the best bad idea we have."

Before the embassy is taken, the movie opens by giving us a brief history of Iran and the US involvement.  I had heard stories of how the CIA covertly deposed friendly rulers and helped install evil dictators in various countries, but I didn't know about Iran.  According to the movie, we helped oust Iran's leader, who was loved by the Iranian people, and we helped install a dictator who tortured and murdered many of Iran's citizens.  No wonder the Iranians hated the US.  To make matters worse, this dictator had fled the country and was given asylum by the US.  Just imagine if Saddam Hussain or Pol Pot were living freely in the US.  The Iranians rightly wanted him returned to them so he could face justice. 

Anyway, this is a very good movie.  In order to sell the cover story, Mendez goes to Hollywood to enlist the help of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).  Siegel knows that they need the press to help sell their lie, so they stage an elaborate script reading with full costumes.  All the scenes with Arkin and Goodman are funny and really help to lighten the tension.

This is based on a true story (although I can't find Lester Siegel on imdb.com), and it was only declassified in the 1990s.  It's the kind of movie that would be hard to believe if it weren't true.  This is also Affleck's third movie as director (after Gone Baby Gone and The Town), and at this point he has established himself as a very good director.  He seems to only go after good material, and so hopefully there will never again be a really crappy Ben Affleck movie.

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