Much ado given to “Argo”

Shaun Collins,Washburn Review

Much ado has been written in film circles about the snubbing of Ben Affleck as best director by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his film “Argo.” I was curious for a long time, but never managed to catch it until the night before the awards ceremony.

I can now join those who say shame on you Oscar for not recognizing Affleck for this amazing film.

Yes, “Argo” did take home the award for Best Picture and is well deserving of that award and so much more.

“Argo” is based on the true story of a joint Canadian/CIA operation to rescue six American diplomats from Iran, who managed to not get ensnared in the hostage crisis but were stranded in the country.

I was born in 1973, so I grew up during this time frame, but other than “Star Wars” my memories don’t really start kicking in until 1980 or so. Yes, I remember the Iran Hostage Crisis, but through the fog of childhood that made it something to be avoided on the news.

Angered over the U.S. giving the Shah asylum, Iranians stormed the embassy in Tehran in 1979, and took 52 people hostage, holding them for 444 days in captivity. A few stragglers managed to escape but were eventually rounded up, except for six that found refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s house.

CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, concocts a cover story about a fictional Hollywood movie going into production called Argo, (which in and of itself would have been a ‘Star Wars’ rip off). He secures a producer (Alan Arkin), and Oscar-winning “Planet of the Apes” makeup man John Chambers (wonderfully played by John Goodman, whom, I’m convinced, should be in every movie from now on) to back the project. To sell the realism, they created a fake production company called Studio Six, set up offices and took out ads announcing the beginning of production. Reports are the cover of the fake studio was so good, 26 scripts were sent to Studio Six during the time they were open, including one from up and coming auteur Steven Spielberg. Canada issues six passports to allow the diplomats to fly out under the cover of a Canadian film crew doing location scouting for the film.

It’s the kind of story that only Hollywood could make up, if for no other reason than the sheer audacity of it. Who else but Hollywood would location scout in a country currently undergoing a revolution? And yet, it is that audacity that Mendez argues makes the lie that much more believable.

And yet, the story is not made up. The events played out on screen actually happened. Albeit with changes made for dramatic impact. History purists will likely complain about the way the tension was increased with a few false additions, or that facts were blurred or left out of the ‘true story.’ But as with all Hollywood entertainment, some liberties can be taken. This isn’t a documentary after all.

What makes the film work, is using history as a back drop to tell it’s story.

The film doesn’t shy away from pointing out that American policy (the CIA in particular) was at fault for creating the Iranian Revolution in the first place (in a masterful foreshadowing during the opening credits told with vivid storyboards and voice over). But at its core, “Argo” is a Hollywood movie about Hollywood.

The film is out now on DVD and BluRay, and I can’t recommend it enough.