Sunday, November 18, 2012


Unable to see any of the films of 2012 Chinese American Film Festival at the 4 Star in late October, I consoled myself by seeing Argo at that theater.

Argo starring Ben Affleck; with John Goodman & Alan Arkin; directed by Ben Affleck; some Persian with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website

Following up on his 2010 film, The Town, Affleck is becoming a director held in high regard in certain quarters.  I haven't seen The Town but not from lack of interest.  Having now seen Argo, I am more anxious to see The Town.

Argo tells the story of the "Canadian Caper" - a covert, CIA operation to smuggle (exfiltrate in CIA parlance) six US government workers out of Iran during the 1979-81 hostage crisis.  The six Americans had taken secret refuge in the home of Canadian ambassador to Iran.  Using a fake science fiction film (also called Argo) as a cover story, CIA operative Tony Mendez and the six men & women posed as location scouts and left Iran under fake Canadian passports.

A shaggy & bearded Affleck plays Mendez as a man with little in the way of explanation as to why he is in his profession.  Affleck's Mendez is a haggard looking rebel with the Agency.  He enlists make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to set up a dummy production company for Argo.  Chambers actually won an Academy Award for his work on Planet of the Apes (1968).  Siegel is a composite character which Arkin plays to the hilt.

Argo does not delve into the psyches of any of its characters.  The characters do what they do and their situation drives the film and creates the drama.  I guess when the backdrop is the Iranian Hostage Crisis, you can afford to let the plot be the primary focus.  That was just fine with me as too often character motivations get in the way of a good story.

Certainly Affleck took some liberties with the facts but Argo is a very well crafted suspense/thriller film with unexpected humor.  The opening scene where the Iranian students overrun the US embassy is nicely done and sets the tone for the film which is almost documentary in tone.  Argo reminded of another recent film:  United 93; although Argo lacked the clinical detachment of United 93.  Victor Garber (who was very good as Jennifer Garner's father in Alias) as the Canadian ambassador, Bryan Cranston as Mendez's CIA boss and the six actors who played the American diplomats delivered memorable performances.

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