New Release: Argo

Argo is the title of the fictional movie the CIA was planning to make in order to scout locations in Iran in 1979 in an effort to save 6 Americans. I saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival and wrote some initial thoughts when I got back. Now that I've had a month to reflect on it, I liked it even more.

In 1979, Iranians overran the US Embassy in Tehran, but 6 employees made it out the back door to the Canadian Ambassador's (Victor Garber) house. With really, really huge targets on their back, they can't leave. Back in the US, ideas are being floated about how to rescue them specifically - international diplomacy was taking care of those in the Embassy. CIA 'exfiltration' expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) has an idea of creating a Canadian movie crew that is scouting locations in Iran for shooting - relying on the idea that people in Hollywood have a reputation for being a little crazy (it's the "best bad idea the CIA has"). He goes to see a costumer, John Chambers (John Goodman) who sets him up with producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). They need to make the film and production company seem real in case it gets checked, so they pick a script for a Sci-fi adventure, Argo, and set up casting and a reading. Then the adventure begins - actually getting into Iran and rescuing 6 people. Much of the tension does come down to timing as the Iranians try to figure out if they captured everyone in the Embassy by going through shredded documents.

A big part of my enjoyment of this movie was the actual experience of seeing it with a Canadian audience in a huge theater, after an introduction by Ben Affleck, the director, himself. Since seeing this will be a different experience for most patrons, I'll mention the other things I really enjoyed about the film. In real-life stories like this, the casting can often give you an idea of who lives and who dies. However, since it's also a real life story, we know that no Americans died, which makes the casting even more impressive - Bryan Cranston is Affleck's boss at the CIA, Tate Donovan is the person in charge of the 6 hostages who completely don't believe that Affleck's scheme can get them out of Iran. And then there's the chemistry between many of the characters - Goodman and Arkin are completely believable and hysterical as the "production company". They have to find a script that is believable, but won't draw too much attention. And then there's Affleck - I am one of the few who really enjoys The Sum of All Fears, but his earnestness and slight goofball attitude have been replaced by a believable strength, intelligence and attitude. And of course there's his 1979 haircut that isn't distracting, but isn't particularly attractive either. But the directing, particularly building tension for a real-life event, is a master stroke. Usually tension in real-life events is highly manufactured to create an entertaining movie. But I have no doubt that the tension and fear of the fake production crew at the Tehran airport is as real as it gets.

There are 3 great reasons to see this movie:

1. It will inform you about events from 33 years ago that's pretty likely you're unaware of and would benefit from knowing, mostly because you won't believe the story (it was declassified in the 90s).

2. The acting is really terrific - witty dialogue that will make you laugh delivered without a sense of fake bravado.

3. It's intensely entertaining, funny, tense, thrilling, mysterious, and uplifting (pun intended once you see it).


  1. I likedThe Sum of All Fears because they blew up Baltimore. I hate Baltimore.

  2. I liked it because there's last minute manufactured tension and a deathbed instruction. Makes me cry.


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