The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses the newly released political thriller: Argo.
During the 1979 hostage crisis, a CIA expert, charged with smuggling six diplomats out of a hostile Iran, asks them to pose as the film crew of a fake sci-fi movie.
“ARGO” IS NOT AN ACTION MOVIE. If there were six words I’d want to share with every Reading Date reader, it would be those. It’s being marketed as an action pic because that’s a lucrative genre. But this film has no car chases, no explosions, and few killings. And though there are guns visible throughout—the government militia is a constant presence—they aren’t used to advance the plot.
What this is, is a political thriller (closely based on a true story), and a darned thrilling one at that. The tension is high in every scene: the six nervous young Embassy executives, including two couples, are being given sanctuary in the home of the sympathetic Canadian ambassador. But they know if they’re identified in the outside world, they’ll be imprisoned or even shot on sight.
Exfiltrating expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed) knows this, too, and is frustrated when his Agency experts can’t come up with a suitable method of extracting them from the country (the best idea has the diplomats riding bicycles for 200 miles). While watching a Planet of the Apes movie with his son, he hits on a “so crazy it just might work” idea: create a fake Hollywood movie and have the diplomats pose as a film crew scouting locations in Iran. Somehow he’s able to sell it to his high-strung boss (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad). Now he just has to make it happen.
Once Mendez lands in LA, the film adopts a slightly more humorous tone as we meet the cuddly makeup artist (John Goodman) and the weary trash-cinema producer (Alan Arkin) who know how to breathe life into the mad scheme. To garner the press that will make the film authentic, they stage a press event in which the film’s Hollywood “cast,” in costume, do a live reading of the script; the comic surrealism of this moment is intercut with the dangers encountered by other hostages in Iran. Finally Mendez arrives in Tehran and meets with the diplomats, but his job is far from over. And the risks just keep rising, as shredded documents and photos are slowly reassembled and a server in the Canadian ambassador’s home grows suspicious of the six houseguests …
The fact that the story (taken from this 2007 article in Wired magazine) is true is pretty incredible, and it’s a credit to director Affleck and the screenwriter that it wasn’t goosed with a lot of unwarranted violence: what you see really does seem to be what went down. (The end credits even show the event’s real people alongside the performers who played them.) Surprisingly, the film shows a great deal of compassion for human life, not just that of the diplomat houseguests but also Mendez’, the ambassador’s, and even that of innocent Iranians caught up in the confusion. At the end of the screening I attended, the audience cheered; hopefully you will too.
Argo is rated R and now playing in theaters nationwide.
Are you planning to see Argo? If you have seen it, what did you think?