Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nail-Biting at the Movies

You'd think it would be impossible to make a thriller where everyone knows the end well in advance and still have the audience sitting on the edge of their seats.  ARGO, amazingly, accomplishes this.

The story is true: In 1979, when 50 people had been taken hostage after the storming of the American embassy in Tehran, six more embassy staffers escaped out the back door and hid in the house of the Canadian ambassador.  It fell to the CIA to get them out of Iran.  Terry Mendez, an "exfiltrator," came up with the insane idea to pose as a Canadian film company making an SF movie in Tehran, and smuggle out the six as members of the film crew.  This means they needed a plausible movie company in Hollywood, a script, buzz in the press, posters, storyboards -- everything to convince the Iranians this was a legitimate enterprise.  So with the help of Hollywood, they created them.  

All this was declassified in 1997.  At the time, after the plan actually worked, the Canadians got the credit.  Mendez has since said that the extraction went smoothly, which means that Ben Affleck, as director, took liberties with the escape sequence in the airport.  It doesn't matter.  The basic facts are there, and I was so tense with the escape that I could barely sit still.  As the plane finally leaves Iranian airspace, the audience in the theater broke into applause.

The actors are all good: Affleck as an impossibly sexy Mendez, Alan Arkin as a cynical producer, John Goodman as the make-up man who has done work for the CIA before.  I had a few quibbles with the six hostages, who are so terrified they don't play along with the ruse very well and so look suspicious already.  But overall, this is the sort of taut, exciting, emotional movie that LOOPER should have been, with innocents in mortal danger and heroes out to rescue them.  Maybe the next big SF movie should be a project for Ben Affleck.

3 comments:

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

Apollo 13 gets me every time. I lived through that mission, I know how it turns out and I still get choked up when they can't raise them four minutes into re-entry blackout.

Dr. Phil

Phy said...

The coolest factoid about Argo is that the script they used was based on Roger Zelazney's Lord of Light.

Now I want to see a big budget treatment of Lord of Light.

Sandra Odell said...

We're hoping to catch ARGO later this week. YOu're the third reliable movie critic to speak favorably. Fingers crossed.

A big budget treatment of Lord of Light? Oh, please, please, please...