After work today, I jumped the bus and raced up to Cleveland Park to catch Argo at my favorite DC movie theater: the Uptown. Even movies I only casually want to see, like, say, State of Play, earn my hard earned greenbacks if they’re at Uptown.
It’s the late 1970s. The Iranian Revolution. The U.S. embassy is stormed and most of the staff taken hostage. Six staffers escape to the Canadian ambassador’s residence, but the Iranian government is closing in. Tony Mendez is an expert at getting people out of rough countries and comes up with a scheme to get these six out: he’ll come up with covers identifying the six as members of a movie production crew and they’ll head out the front door (aka the airport).
In building their cover story, Mendez recruits some Hollywood helpers to actually begin production of a real “fake” movie: Argo, which is described by the characters as a Star Wars rip-off.
Ben Affleck stars – and directs! – as Tony Mendez. Supporting roles are played by Kyle Chandler, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane and others.
The film was extremely enjoyable. I didn’t do a lot of research into the actual events (I know there were some irritation that the Canadians – who were, let’s face it, big time heroes here – got short shrift in the original ending) but I knew that all seven (the six escapees & Mendez) escaped from Iran. It’s the mark of a good – nay, great – film that the suspense was maintained right through the climax.
The beginning of the film quickly details the history of Iran: how, after hundreds of years of monarchical rule a leader was democratically elected, nationalized Western oil interests, and was deposed in a coup supported by the U.S. three years later. Several decades later, during the revolution, it’s when the U.S. takes in their puppet leader that the population reacts with outrage. The film is not sympathetic to Iranian radicals, but it also makes the point that the U.S. is not an innocent. I’m sure this will rub some people the wrong way.
Stylistically, Argo feels like a cross between a camp sci-fi film and a spy movie. This is, to be clear, not a sci-fi movie, by any standards, but since Mendez needs as strong a cover story as possible, quite a bit of the early production is shown. Adrienne Barbeau has a great cameo as a “Space Witch.”
Additionally, two sequences towards the end of the film will make any sci-fi geek’s heart aflutter – first, an impassioned plea in (mostly) subtitled Farsi where the story of Star Wars (not literally, but that’s how I took it) — an oppressed people standing up to an evil empire (the deposed Shah) crosses the cultural divide. The camera shots during the final text, of Mendez’s son’s sci-fi toys: Star Wars figures, a Spock doll, brought me back to my childhood.
Man, I miss my Star Wars action figures. Boom! Zap!