Film Review: “Argo” ★★★★★ (5/5)

In 1979, Iranians participated in the first televised revolution. They overthrew a leader who wasn’t initially chosen to be their Shah, but was rather appointed to the throne after a US/UK backed coup d’état in the early 50’s. Months after he was overthrown, the former dictator was granted permission to receive medical treatment in the US. This angered the masses and they demanded for the US to return their former dictator so he could receive a proper trial.

The protests largely took place outside the American embassy in Tehran. On one particular day, the crowds escalated in startling numbers. Fueled with anger, they stormed into the embassy. Six Americans working in the embassy managed to escape, and the rest were taken hostage. Argo tells the story of the rescue operation planned for the six Americans who took refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s home. What followed was one of the most unusual rescue operations in CIA history.

1979 Iranian demo

It’s funny how history repeats itself. So much of the archival footage seen in this film is reminiscent of the Arab Spring. The Iran revolution of 1979 was the first televised revolution and the Egyptian revolution is considered the first digital revolution. The protest for the Shah trial reminds me of the calls for a Mubarak trial. However, the most coincidental element here is the US embassy takeover, which almost mirrors the recent tragic incidents in Libya.

Though Ben Affleck’s Argo does feature the regular Hollywood dosage of angry Muslims, it is nevertheless honest in its depiction, for the understandable reason behind their anger is presented in all fairness. Often Hollywood productions (and Fox News) go for what I like to call the effect without cause route. We see angry Muslims burning down American flags, but we don’t see anything of ‘The Burn the Quran Day’. Here Affleck gives the cause, the effect, the whole damn shebang.

This is the actor’s third directional effort and it’s a magnificent achievement. His first debut as a director was the excellent mystery thriller Gone Baby Gone, his second was the marvelous crime caper The Town. With “Argo” he fully establishes himself as one of the best working directors today. Expect a bunch of Academy Award nominations when Oscar season rolls round.

Argo is one of the most suspenseful films of the year and even though the subject matter is quite serious, it doesn’t shy away from humour. Alan Arkin and John Goodman in particular stand out amongst the strong supporting cast. Goodman plays a Hollywood make-up artist who brings in film producer Lester Siegel when the CIA decides that the best rescue mission is to fool the Iranian government into thinking they’re filming a Canadian science fiction film. The idea comes to Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) while watching Planet of the Apes on TV.

The title of the fake film is Argo and even though the “Star Wars rip-off” was never actually made, this Argo is a phenomenal production. The hairstyles, makeup, and 70′s-ish mise-en-scene really take you to another time and place. In many ways, the audience almost becomes a seventh member being smuggled out of the country. As the clock ticks to the nerve-wracking finale you’ll be holding your breath the whole time.

This is a rare case where the universal love for movies played a crucial part in saving lives. An American friend of mine surprised me once when I asked him about the first thing he noticed when he came to Egypt. Astoundingly, it wasn’t the heat, the traffic or the overuse of hair gel, but our knowledge of American pop culture. “People here know our music, movies, and TV shows a lot better than folks back home,” he said. Argo captures this global love for cinema better than any film this year. Film is truly the language of the world and “Argo” is a perfect entry in that dictionary.


4 thoughts on “Film Review: “Argo” ★★★★★ (5/5)

  1. They say “Zero Dark Thirty” is more suspenseful, but that does not affect much the fact that “Argo” is a hugely entertaining film made under the first-rate direction – it’s No.4 in my recent annual list, by the way.


    1. I still haven’t seen “Zero Dark Thirty”, but I have a feeling that they are being compared unfairly. Reminds me of when “Saving Private Ryan” was being compared to “The Thin Red Line”, two very different films within the same genre.


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