The Movie Date: Argo

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.

ARGO movie poster Ben Affleck

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?


16 thoughts on “The Movie Date: Argo

  1. bookgoonie says:

    I’m very excited to hear that this movie is quality and not hype.

    I’ll probably rent it just because I don’t make it to the movies much. I chafe at $8 a ticket. I’m cheap…more $ to spend on books.

    1. wordsforthepictures says:

      However you see it, B’Goonie, I hope you enjoy!

  2. megsays says:

    The trailer has definitely been luring me in for a while, but I don’t know if I can handle the intensity level! It does look like a great film though!

    1. wordsforthepictures says:

      A lot of tension certainly but not a lot of (or any?) violence. Hope you enjoy it if you see it!

      1. megsays says:

        That makes me feel better, I would your first sentence seems pretty accurate because that’s not what I’d been led to believe from the previews. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see it soon! 🙂

  3. BermudaOnion says:

    I wasn’t planning to see this because I thought it was an action flick. I keep hearing it’s good – it sounds like I need to go see it.

    1. wordsforthepictures says:

      I hope you give it a shot. It’s that rare picture that makes you proud to be American—or human, for that matter!

  4. Affleck is actually a really good director..need to check this out!

    1. wordsforthepictures says:

      Yup, he’s three for three now. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

  5. squee1313 says:

    I have loved Affleck since the Good Will Hunting days and got really down when he was stuck in some of those bad projects like Gigli. I always thought there was more to him than that. Then The Town came out and I was back in love with him again. I will definitely see Argo at some point.

    1. wordsforthepictures says:

      His acting is so matter-of-fact sometimes it’s easy to miss how good he is. He soft-pedals this role a little bit, which is perfect. Since there’s so much other craziness going on, he’s like the calm in the eye of the storm. Really glad to see him reinvent himself a little after those sad and silly years.

  6. I’ll probably wait for DVD, but I’ll definitely see it. Gone Baby Gone was really excellent, and The Town was almost as good.

    A funny sidelight on the “Argo” project (I’m sure this isn’t in the movie) is that the production designs they used for the fake movie were actually from a failed attempt to adapt Lord of Light (by Roger Zelazny), which was one my of favorite books when I was a kid (and it’s still pretty darn good), and they were done by Jack Kirby, the artist who co-created Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Thor, etc.

  7. I really liked this one too, Lucy! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I thought the side-by-side comparisons of historical photos next to still shots from the film at the end were an especially nice touch.

  8. fishgirl182 says:

    great review. i like that you tell everyone it’s not an action movie. sometimes i hate how hollywood markets things to get people into theaters. that’s great but then people are unhappy with the film because they came expecting something that it’s not.

    i really want to see this one and hope to this weekend. i hope to be cheering at the end, too.

  9. […] pretty grim stuff. Out of the two real-life Middle East dramas, I really did prefer Argo (reviewed here). The true story is so far-fetched it’s laughable, and Affleck wrings every possible drop of […]

  10. […] O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) has achieved the task beautifully here; as with last year’s Argo, the few guns we see are never fired and the only blood is from abrasions and nosebleeds. Yet this […]

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