Rescue Me

Main Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber

Director: Ben Affleck

I am of an age to find the film Argo interesting on more than one level.  It’s history, but it’s also bits and pieces of memory.  I vividly remember the Iran hostage crisis, but more as framework for a time period during which I really cared more about how my hair looked than about world affairs.  I certainly remember nothing of the events depicted in the film.   Ben Affleck takes the incident and make it into a fairly gripping thriller.

In the year 1979, the US embassy in Tehran was stormed and 60 people taken hostage by revolutionaries angered by US policies toward the recently deposed Shah.  Unbeknownst to them in the immediate aftermath of the falling of the embassy, 6 members of the staff had escaped into the streets of the city, finding shelter in the home of the Canadian ambassador and his wife (played by Victor Garber and Page Leong).  There they hid, while the US government frantically tried to come up with a plan to get them out of the country.     It was Tony Mendez (Affleck, who also directs) who put together a completely audacious scheme involving a phony movie and a scouting party bent on using the exotic location of Iran.  It was crazy, but nobody else had anything better.

The audience watches as Tony prepares his plan with the help of some friends in the film industry (played by Alan Arkin and John Goodman) and a great deal of sheer in-your-face luck.  He manages to get in the country himself, only to have to prep and remove the traumatized embassy staff before the revolutionaries come knocking.

Argo is the kind of movie that can be thrilling, edge of your seat viewing or can go horribly, horribly wrong and be a boring, muddled mess.  Bravo to Affleck for achieving the former.  Like me, a lot of you are going to go into this movie thinking you know a little something about the Iran hostage crisis – and you do.  You just never saw it like this before.  News reports from 35 years ago cannot do justice to how terrifying it must have been to be on the ground, amidst the rioting and violence, watching as hundreds of people raced toward your previously secure building with the express purpose of doing you harm.  Argo has beautifully filmed scenes of the breach, allowing us to feel some of the fear that went through the embassy staff as they frantically tried to prepare to be overrun.  Those who escaped did so with an almost naïve bravado and somehow managed to make it to relative safety.

The six escapees were not military.  They were more like clerical workers abroad.  They lacked skills in diplomacy, negotiation or even basic stealth.  They were scared and forced to put their trust in a stranger with a crazy plan to get them home.  Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishe and Rory Cochrane play the escapees and each manages to impart the fear, impatience and reluctance to leave what had become a relatively safe haven to brave the streets on which Americans were hated and hunted.  They argue amongst themselves and complain and do all the things normal, regular people do when they’re under terrible stress.  Scoot McNairy (awesome, awesome name) in particular does a great job of being a belligerent prick that ends up being impossible to hate.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin definitely provide the comic relief in Argo (and we need it – it’s an intense movie experience) as they set up the phony movie with just enough credibility to pass long distance muster.  Throw in Bryan Cranston as Affleck’s boss and Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Titus Welliver and Zeljko Ivanek as various Washington suits and you have a stellar cast to support the lesser known principles trying to get out of Iran.  Affleck manages to balance the tightrope of actor/director/producer with a deftness that will surprise those who remember him only from his Daredevil days.  He has a good onscreen presence and manages to switch between the lightness of setting up the caper to the intensity of actually pulling it off without difficulty.  As a director he pulls everything together – excellent cinematography in the Iranian scenes, Hollywood frivolity, Washington bureaucracy and an underlying, pervasive current of time sensitive tension.

Overall, Argo is a terrific film based on a piece of history that was unknown to the world until it was declassified in 1997.  Even then it remained as a quiet part of a larger crisis.  Though Affleck and company take some liberties to heighten the tension in the film, the basic story remains fairly faithful to the spirit of the original events.  Jimmy Carter speaking about Mendez over the closing credits is a very nice touch.   Affleck and his co-stars do an excellent job of both telling the story and creating a very tense thriller.  4 ½ stars out of 5.

The film was inspired by the book of the same name.

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