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Iran, Hollywood, the CIA? Affleck's ‘Argo’ Makes It All Work

The director and star continues to impress as he takes on a so-odd-it-has-to-be-true tale of a CIA plot, with a Hollywood assist, to save Americans trapped in Iran.

Quick hit: CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) concocts an unlikely scheme to rescue six Americans stranded in Iran in the midst of the 1979 hostage crisis. In Argo, which opens Friday, Affleck adapts a true story that somehow roped in Hollywood. The actor/director continues to show a deft hand behind the camera, spinning out an increasingly tense tale while Alan Arkin and John Goodman inject needed humor. He also casts himself well as the weary but determined Mendez.

Some stories are just too bizarre for fiction. If a writer pitched them, he would be laughed out of the room. 

Take the tale of the cheerleader's mom who tried to off a rival cheerleader's mom. Or the astronaut so obsessed with one of her colleagues she drove cross country wearing a diaper to confront his alleged girlfriend.

Or for that matter, the story of a CIA agent who faked a movie production as cover to gain entry to a hostile country. 

Yes, indeed, these things all did happen. The latter story, however, is the subject of director/star Ben Affleck's latest film, the taut Argo.

The U.S., in the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis, finds that six embassy employees escaped the takeover and are being sheltered by the Canadian ambassador. As Washington intelligence officials clash with the State Department and the White House, the Iranians who stormed the embassy creep closer to discovering the missing Americans.

Their survival falls on the shoulders of Affleck's world-weary agent, Tony Mendez, first tasked with vetting the lame rescue plans put forth by the diplomatic corps, then assembling the “cast” to make his fake production, Argo, a Star Wars-ripoff, seem real to the unsuspecting Iranian government.

If you respect good, but lesser-known, actors they are littered throughout this thriller, none bearing a great deal of weight, but each adding to the whole, which in addition to having a star director, also has a star producer – one George Clooney.

Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber and Philip Baker Hall stroll through, but Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who make fun of Hollywood – not the hardest task, we know – make the biggest impressions.

Affleck uses them well, giving Arkin's aging producer and Goodman's makeup expert the best lines, allowing them to bring much needed levity to a humorless bunch, the CIA spooks and the imperiled shut-ins they are laboring to free.

If Affleck errs in his direction – he didn't in Gone Baby Gone – it's in leaning toward wrapping things up too neatly, a temptation he also gave in to in The Town. But on the way to the tidy ending is a section so tension-filled that if you set aside disbelief, the foregone conclusion to the movie isn't so unexpected.

We may know the ending, but the audience is placed in the seats of the seven people trying to escape Iran and it's a jarring place to be, with every hiccup travelers typically encounter – normally temporary inconveniences – transformed into a life-or-death obstacle.

Affleck also casts himself better than the studios ever did. He never fit the hero archetype that Daredevil and Pearl Harbor foisted on him. In his more recent roles, as the troubled actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland, the hood-with-a-heart in The Town and now, the conflicted family man and CIA agent who embarks on Argo's rescue, he's found his niche – characters who aren't good as gold, but aspire to something more honorable.

And if ripped from the headlines movies are your bag, the three-decade-old story gains more relevance as it follows last month's , and Thursday's U.S. embassy shooting, in which a Yemeni officer was killed.

Without preaching, Affleck sprinkles appropriate evidence of Iran's oppressive regime throughout the film and leaves open the question of just how much has changed since the hostage crisis, which ended in 1981.

The nearest theaters to La Mesa-Mount Helix featuring the film are:

GROSSMONT CENTER 10, 5500 Grossmont Center Dr., La Mesa.

EDWARDS RANCHO SAN DIEGO 15, 2951 Jamacha Road, El Cajon.

REGAL PARKWAY PLAZA STADIUM 18 & IMAX, 405 Parkway Plaza, El Cajon.

Komfort October 13, 2012 at 03:08 AM
" One of EIC's recent ventures is focused on sustainable aid. The organization has connected local cocoa farmers in the Congo, who farm the crop that is eventually turned into chocolate, with chocolate makers across the globe. "It isn't really aid, " Affleck said. "This is the free market." He explained the strategy, saying "We hooked up them up with Theo chocolate, who does a great job and we now have our first Congo bar. It's not aid, it's not giving somebody money, it's we're going to get you to a place where you can manufacture on the open market so that you can sell your market...so you have an ongoing business where people can make money through their own work."" http://m.cbsnews.com/fullstory.rbml?catid=57528582&feed_id=30&videofeed=null
Sara Kazemi October 13, 2012 at 08:30 AM
I think the situation in Iran is poorly understood and I'm not so sure the Hollywood depiction of a historical event will improve that situation. What this article does fail to mention is the role of the US (and the UK) in how Iran came to be how it is. Before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the US and the UK were largely responsible for bringing back an absolute monarchy to Iran under the militaristic government of Shah Ali Reza Pahlavi. Before the Shah, Iran actually had a democratic government under an elected prime minister. The US and the UK helped lead a coup against this government. This was all sadly over oil. The Shah's authoritarian government was very pro-West and sadly oppressed Iranians' rights to freedom of religion (namely, Islam since it isn't Western). Because of this stance against Islam, we saw the Islamic Revolution. Sadly, the resulting government takes it upon itself to interpret what Islam is and oppresses those who don't necessarily believe in Islam. Instead of simply giving the people the right to practice their religion, it has been imposed. I do not know why the democratic government of Iran is rarely talked about. I only ever learned about the Shah and the Islamic Revolution in school. I the coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh is a very important part of history, especially when understanding this foreign country called Iran.
F. Dunn October 13, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Sarah, thank you for this info, which I have never heard before. I have always wondered...why did Iranian women want sharia and the Islamic revolution of 1979? Did they not know what would happen to them? Or did they just have no voice?

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