In 1979, a group of Iranian militants took 52 staff members of the US Embassy in Tehran hostage, calling for the extradition from the US of the overthrown and terminally ill Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to stand trial. Six staff members managed to escape, and were hidden by Ken Taylor of the Canadian Embassy. Knowing these six could be caught and charged with espionage, a certain death sentence, at any time, the CIA planned an unconventional rescue mission, led by Exfiltration expert Tony Mendez: have the six Americans pose as a Canadian film crew on a location scout for a Science Fiction film called Argo.
Argo takes a small story set against a wider political landscape and tells it incredibly well. Though it’s a small story from the Iranian Revolution, it’s by no means insignificant. It will have an impact on diplomatic relations between three countries and failure means death not only for the six Americans, but also the Canadians hiding them and Mendez. This story may have even started the term, ‘this is just crazy enough to work!’
And the film, too, is just crazy enough to work. The story is brought to life in Affleck’s capable hands, with excellent editing, cinematography and production design. The attention to detail is impressive, from the old Warner Bros. logo to 1970s Iran, and Ben Affleck’s wig. The cast is also incredible, particularly Goodman and Arkin, who provide the film’s comic relief, and Cranston, who plays the guy pulling it all together from the other side of the world with aplomb. It has the right amount of tension, humour and heart-warming moments and though it strays into sentimental territory at the end, I can let that slide because it’s been so skilfully handled up until that point.
It’s often argued that the Academy Awards seem to be politically motivated rather than motivated by a genuine desire to acknowledge the year’s finest filmmakers. However, this year’s nominees were all strong contenders for the top honours (Lincoln and Les Misérables being the weakest in my opinion, despite excellent performances), and while I personally don’t believe Argo was the best of the nominated films (that was Django Unchained, of course), it’s still an incredibly accomplished film about the ways in which dangerous situations can be resolved without violence.
Argo is an important reminder that Hollywood cinema can sometimes use its powers for good instead of evil. It’s also a reminder of how awesome it is when Alan Arkin swears at people.
Reviewer: Sallie Pritchard