By on March 4, 2013

By: Frances Du

I love movies about making movies, there’s something very meta about it, very Fellini-

Argo (2012) takes us back to the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, when the American
Embassy in Tehran was taken over by Islamist militants during the Iranian Revolution.
Fifty-two Americans were held hostage, and the relationship between the U.S. and Iran
became increasingly strained. However, six Americans escaped and sought refuge in the
home of a Canadian Ambassador. The problem was no one could figure out how to get
them out and bring them home.

CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) proposes a preposterous idea: pretend they’re
members of a Canadian film crew who want to shoot an epic sci-fi space opera. It’s
absurd, but also the best bad idea they’ve got.

What follows is reminiscent of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001) as Mendez
individually seeks the help of Hollywood hotshots to make things happen. Mendez
recruits well-known producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to front the movie and makeup
artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to remind him of the fact that his plan bears the
burden of having to successfully bring home six American hostages, while fooling the
general public into thinking that a major blockbuster is being made. They go to great
lengths to set up a fake production office, create storyboards, and put out an ad in the

This thriller is brilliantly edited, to the point where I’m forced to say cheesy things like,
I was on the edge of my seat! The cast is strong and the dialogue is witty and funny
without trying too hard. Affleck doesn’t have to rely on sophomoric humor to create a
well-balanced film. And while the character development could have been better when it
came to the hostages, their sense of claustrophia, and fear is genuine and we empathize.

One of the best scenes juxtaposes a live script reading party in LA where everyone is
dressed in space costumes with the violence and chaos in Iran. These two scenes cannot
be more removed from one another, but later on—when Mendez quietly leads the six
American hostages through the airport—it’s the sci-fi storyboards which distract the
Iranian guards, showing how Hollywood has a firm grip on boyish fantasies, showing
how the imagination has that incredible ability to remove us from a harsh reality even if
its momentary.

After winning Best Picture last weekend at the 2013 Academy Awards, Argo has
cemented Affleck’s status as an A-List Hollywood director. Like he said in his speech,
when he was up there fifteen years ago to accept Best Screenplay for Good Will Hunting
he was just a kid and never thought he would be back [on stage]. Well, not anymore. At
this rate, we’re willing to bet that he’s going to be up there again quite soon.


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