We were an hour and a half into “Argo,” when the film burned up. Literally. We waited a half hour for the movie to restart, then received some free tickets and left. The rest of the audience, consisting entirely of people old enough to remember the Carter administration, stayed and were working themselves into a party atmosphere…
Ben Affleck, also the director, plays Tony Mendez, a CIA agent determined to bring home six Americans hiding at the Canadian ambassador’s home in Tehran. The two women and four men have narrowly escaped from the U.S. Embassy compound, as it is being stormed by a mob of enraged Iranians on Nov. 4, 1979. Before the 66 American hostages are taken (and eventually held for 444 days), they manage to shred or burn most of the classified documents, including photographs, and destroy electronic equipment.
To rescue the six consular officials, the CIA and State Dept. want to deliver six bicycles to the ambassador’s home so the six people can pedal 300 miles to the Iranian border. Fortunately, Mendez, chief of technical services/master of disguises and fake IDs, comes up with a better bad idea: make a fake movie, “Argo,” and retrieve the six Americans, who will pose as Canadians and part of the production crew. To do this, Mendez enlists the help of renown makeup artist and Hollywood in-man John Chambers (John Goodman), who introduces him to producer Lester Siegel (spunky Alan Arkin). The three men find a plausible sci-fi script, set up a fake office, legitimize the film with publicity, and off Mendez goes to Tehran to “scout the location.” The plan is to give the trapped Americans fake Canadian IDs, passports, and cover stories, which they must learn in order to get through all the airport security checks. One of the six is a negative, whiny wimp, Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), who doesn’t quite get the concept that death is a certainty if he stays.
Meanwhile, Iranian security is putting back together the shredded photographs and realizing from still intact documents that six people are unaccounted for. In Tehran, there are daily, violent demonstrations; chaos reigns and hanged bodies are publicly displayed. The people love the Ayatolla Khomeini, who returned from exile after the U.S. took in the hated, deposed Shah of Iran. (Khomeini founded the Islamic Republic and the U.S. was its number one enemy. Tehran was boiling with hatred for Americans.)
The night before they are to make their escape, the plug is pulled on the plan, but Mendez doesn’t tell anyone. He mulls it over, refuses to leave the six people behind, and calls his contact, Agent O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) in D.C. that he’s going forward and the CIA/State Dept. better get the fake movie office set back up. After much distress and bickering among the rescuees, Mendez manages to get everyone to the airport, just a half hour before the Canadian Ambassador Taylor (Victor Garber) and his wife close their house to take a train out of Iran…
That’s when the film morphed into a white screen. However, according to history, Mendez was successful. 🙂
Affleck did a top notch job directing, as well as acting. The cast, looking totally retro, were at their best. The screenplay was taut and rife with tension.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.