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‘Argo’: Americans rescued during 1979 Iranian overthrow

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By Fred Allen

 Problem: After the Shah is overthrown in Iran and dozens of American staff members are taken hostage, how can the U.S. rescue six other Americans who have hidden in the Canadian Embassy? Based on true events, “Argo” chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue these Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis—the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades.

On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing that the Canadians will soon be forced to leave the country, a way must be found to get the U.S. staff members out of the embattled city. What is Argo? It is a fictitious sci-fi movie which will use the Americans as a film crew to walk them out of the airport and to freedom. The leader of this plan is Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA expert in extracting citizens from one country to another. He will be the first to tell you that he is “quite good” at what he does, but his first job is convincing his U.S. compatriots to leave the ‘safety’ of their hiding place.

Director/actor Affleck builds a white knuckle script from the invasion of the American Embassy building and the escape of the Iranian Six until the Swissair 747 takes off. The bearded Affleck always retains the calm exterior which is needed while he tests the genuineness of the covers which have been manufactured to get the escapees past the guards wherever they go. They traverse a crowded marketplace, and we see the tension rise as one after another the escapees nearly collapse from the fear of recognition. Already they have had to wait through diplomatic challenges while the American State Department decides if the ‘Argo’ plan is a go or a no-go.

“Argo” is a slick, dramatic tale of one small group’s effort to hold on to their sanity while the world around them goes fanatically wrong. TV’s Bryan Cranston is excellent as a state dept. official who bets everything and everyone’s life on Mendez’s plan. Helping to pull the plan together from the Hollywood angle are Alan Arkin as the rusty, old movie mogul who gets one last chance to pull a production together, even if it is fake. John Goodman portrays an Oscar-winning makeup artist who builds the disguises which will allow the detainees to depart from Iran.

The escapees — Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, and Kerry Bishe—show every bit of apprehension as the Revolutionary Guard pieces shredded files together to determine how many have escaped the Embassy. As an audience we are rooting for the rescue while we see evidence of how little respect was shown for the Iranians. Affleck does not whitewash our actions; he shows how American lack of political tact can lead to barbarous actions.

The strain continues not just until the plane takes off, but until Iranian air space is left behind. After 444 days of imprisonment, all hostages were finally released. Perhaps the best-built and acted movie so far this year in town.

Family Rating: A very tame R-rating for language and some violent images. A very good history lesson for junior high and up. Also featuring Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, and a huge cast. Musical score by Alexandre Desplat. (2 hrs.)

Also opening HERE COMES THE BOOM. (Unpreviewed) Family Rating: PG for bouts of MMA sports violence, some rude humor and language. SINISTER. [Unpreviewed] Family Rating: R for disturbing violent images and some terror.