Movie Review-Argo

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By Christie Hudon

The reality of strained relations with the Middle East is not new.  I wasn’t alive for the Iranian hostage crisis that lasted from 79-81 and it was something glossed over (if mentioned at all) in history classes.  It took a film to make life’s realities more poignant and relatable; and that’s exactly what Argo, an upcoming film directed and starring Ben Affleck did.  Set in chilling days of political unrest that parallel our current state of affairs, Argo is a gritty, edge of your seat, true story.

When CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) hatches a plan that is the “best bad idea” the combined intelligence agencies can muster, a Hollywood farce becomes a covert operation.  In order to spirit away hidden survivors before they become hostages, Mendez sets up shop with a past his prime director (Alan Arkin) and a rogue special effects artist (John Goodman).  Thus, Argo’s cryptic name comes from this film within a film.

As the movie begins, we are given a brief history lesson which paints an unsettling picture of Iran and US foreign relations on the eve of the 1980’s.  What follows is a heart-wrenching account of protestors surging over the gates of the US embassy as foreign workers look on helplessly.  I couldn’t help but shiver as I thought of what those in Libya must have witnessed just months ago.  The documentary-esque filming ends when we follow six US citizens who escape through a side door.  Now begins their sojourn as refugees in a hostile country.  It is their story that weaves into Mendez’s own and thrusts viewers back and forth between daily life in the US and Iran.

Tensions mount but are thankfully diffused by the irreverent Hollywood treatment Argo gets.  But even in lighthearted moments, the pain of the hostages and escapees is never gone.  This film hardly gives you time to breathe from the moment the vintage studio credits roll.  Argo is laden with violence and strong language that have a place in the story, not gratuitous but necessary at most moments to prove the helplessness and horror experienced by those living through the event.

This film is a perfect ensemble cast.  Affleck proves his directorial skills through powerful visual storytelling and understated characterization.  Choices like not using subtitles to make the audience feel as helpless as the escapees were subtle but effective.

A dramatic film dredging up a painful past was a risk in this climate.  I wonder if the filmmakers hoped to inspire with the cooperation between allied nations and the heroism of integrity.  I appreciated the reminder that even mired in governmental red tape, one person can have an effect on others.  The timing of Argo’s release isn’t accidental, but a welcome distraction that works as a reminder that there is always hope, and good stories to be told.

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