Tonight was a night when I was reminded that watching a great film, in a cinema, with an appreciative audience, is a delightful and powerful experience. Tonight I remembered why I love films.
The film in question is Argo. A dramatic recreation of the story of six American Embassy staff who escaped the mob of students and revolutionary guards who stormed the American Embassy in Iran in 1979. Taken in by the Canadian Ambassador the six hide out whilst the Revolutionary Guard piece together the fact that they are missing. As the events unfold it becomes clear that if captured it is likely that they will be executed as spies. They cannot hide indefinitely and pressure on all sides starts to mount as the situation in Tehran deteriorates.
From the 50’s America and Britain abused their power installing the Shah over a democratically elected leader and have supported his despotic regime. So now its payback time – Iranian style. House to house searches, executions, traitors hanged and displayed in the streets, summary arrests at airports – civilisation, surrounded, shrinking and in retreat, is being replaced by a hostile, alien alternative. Tehran has become one big immune system and the six fugitives are a virus. Their chance of navigating their way out of the city and country are miniscule.
Cue the good guys – Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is brought into the situation by his C.I.A. supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) to brainstorm solutions with the State Department. Its clear to Mendez that no plans are good, and no-one has a clue. That night however he stumbles upon an idea so crazy it might just work. Or at least not fail as badly as the other alternatives.
This involves setting up a fake film (Argo) a Science-fiction fantasy and have the embassy staff pose as Canadian film makers scouting exotic locations. To make this work there must be a script, a producer, Variety articles, auditions, readings, industry functions you name it – the film must be real in every respect, apart from being real.
Mendez approaches John Chambers (John Goodman) a special effects guru who has helped the agency before. Chambers brings producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) along to build up the whole artifice of the movie. Mendez and O’Donnell get approval for operation ‘Hollywood’ and Mendez flies into Turkey to start getting approvals before his trip into Iran.
The build up of the conditions leading to the Shah’s overthrow and the ignition of hatred against America was deftly handled. The embassy point-of-view as the crowd got out of control and stormed the grounds was gripping. A wonderful portrait of dedicated individuals executing protocol on the very edge of panic whilst chaos remorselessly closes in. The fate of the captured staff serving to highlight the risks and danger that the fugitives were now in.
From this point to the end of the movie it did not miss a beat. Argo was in turn tense, fascinating and moving with the odd comic moment timed perfectly to allow you to catch your breath. I was spellbound. And in many ways I can’t decompose a movie like this when it draws me in this well. I don’t want to. So I’ll say the usual. The script and pace was tight – nothing out of place – pitch perfect. The acting – as expected from this cast – was outstanding. A deeply satisfying film – this is a story of our world and our time and is still being played out today. See this film.
Ten out of ten.