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Published on October 18th, 2012 | by RLn Staff

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In Theaters Now: Argo

By Danny Simon

  • Directed by Ben Affleck
  • Starring Alan Arkin, Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman

Argo opens with the Iran hostage crisis that began November 4, 1979, when students seized the US embassy in Tehran as part of the Iranian Revolution. As the students seized the embassy, six American embassy officials fled and found refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. CIA extrication expert, Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, conceives and puts into play an absurd and outlandish rescue plan contingent upon a universal truth: the bigger and bolder the lie, the more likely people are to believe it.

Drawing inspiration from the bizarre and true “Canadian Caper”, director Ben Affleck presents a film about a film that never was but which freed six Americans from the clutches of fanaticism. The film’s title is also the name of the film script/production used to con the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. But Argo was also the name of the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts which was blessed by the Greek goddess Athena. The film seems to argue that humanity will only survive it’s current obsession with fundamentalism if a goddess from more pluralistic times pragmatically gives us her blessing.

In Argo’s first act, Iranian revolutionary angst is explained as the logical result of Western interference and malfeasance. As the hostage crisis wears on, the film depicts the resulting populist insanity that shaped the current relationship between Iran and America. Like the CIA created frenzy surrounding Cuba, Iran became a permanent specter even after it released the 52 American hostages after 444 days of captivity. And this was just minutes after President Ronald Reagan took the oath of office, but that’s a whole other CIA movie unlikely to be made any time soon.

It seems odd that Ben Affleck presents a story in which the CIA is the heroic liberator. Maybe he missed a meeting at Matt Damon’s house or maybe he’s just historically amnesic like many Americans. Despite its brief historical introduction, Argo paradoxically aggrandizes the CIA for only partially cleaning up a mess that it itself created. There is actually a high five sequence between CIA agents near film’s end. Pretty bizarre.

Argo is an entertaining film. The cinematography is solid, the ensemble cast works, and even Affleck’s onstage hammy theatrics are forgivable. The film’s best moments are shared by John Goodman and Alan Arkin who play a pair of understandably jaded film industry veterans who help Mendez create his illusion. Surreptitiously, Arkin resumes his role as Captain John Yossarian from Catch-22. Older and balder now, Yossarian has learned to accept the paradoxes of empire. If one can stop thinking about the past or the future, there’s a lot of fun to be had out there.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w918Eh3fij0&version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0]

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