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From Law to Grace » Hollywood, Islam, Politics, Religion » Argo: A Humorously Serious Ride Back to the Future

Argo: A Humorously Serious Ride Back to the Future

On Friday afternoon, I did what I have not done in a long time. While my wife and boys entered Theater 5 at Aviator 10 in Alamogordo to watch the kids’ movie, “Hotel Transylvania” (which they liked), I peeled off from the family and entered Theater 7 by myself to watch a movie aimed at a more adult audience. Even as I write these words, I have to be careful not to say (which I have before), “I was glad that I was finally able to watch an adult movie instead of a children’s movie.” If you are a parent and have never made that faux pas, then you are a better person than I.

There were three movies that I could have chosen, but, in the end, I decided on “Argo,” the new Ben Affleck-directed dramatization of events surrounding the escape of six American diplomats from Iran in the days following the storming of our American Embassy and the taking of 52 hostages by Islamic radicals on November 4, 1979. As a student of history and politics, I love movies which include both. Throw in comedic elements (not always easy in these types of films) and what you have is “Argo,” a well-crafted movie which is a humorously serious ride back to the future.

I say back to the future because the opening scenes — which depict thousands of Islamic radicals protesting outside of the American Embassy in Tehran in the moments before the Embassy walls were breached — easily reminded this viewer of the recent protests at American Embassies throughout the Middle East, including the pre-planned attack of our Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12 which resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

As far as “Argo” is concerned, there was only one irritating part of the movie, which came at the very end — having to hear the grating voice of Jimmy Carter, the man responsible for losing Iran to radical Islamists, a botched rescue attempt which left eight American servicemen dead in the Iranian desert, and a 444-day hostage crisis which only ended after his successor — Ronald Reagan — was sworn into office. Apart from this liberal nod to the second-worst President in my lifetime, “Argo” was thoroughly enjoyable and riveting from beginning to end.

Although I am no fan of Ben Affleck’s politics, I must admit that I like him as an actor and even more as a director. I have not seen “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck’s directorial debut, but his second film, “The Town,” has become one of those movies (like Die Hard and a certain John Landis-directed movie that shall remain nameless), that I can begin watching at any point if I happen to run across it while channel surfing. I expect that “Argo” will join that list once it makes it to television.

As with any good movie, the script must be stellar. The dialogue — of the serious and comedic varieties — was not only sharply written, but sharply delivered by the outstanding cast, which not only included Affleck, but John Goodman (as famed Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers) and Alan Arkin as an aging and acerbic director who still has one more film to make for his country. Even if dramatic license was used, a few key scenes — one of which I can’t repeat — were used not only to comedic effect, but were instrumental in advancing the story. Some viewers should be warned that there is profanity — including a few “f-bombs” sprinkled throughout the movie.

At its heart, “Argo” is really about telling the harrowing story of the six Americans who escaped captivity by hiding in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber of Titanic fame), and his wife, Pat.  It’s about the ingenuity of C.I.A. officers — including Tony Mendez (Affleck) and Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) — who, in spite of resistance from high-ranking officials like Carter Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan (kudos to Kyle Chandler’s spot-on portrayal) and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance (24′s Bob Gunton, who happens to share a birthday with yours truly), worked tirelessly to extricate the six Americans from a hostile country.

Even though I knew how the story would end, the climax of the film (some of it embellished for effect) — with Mendez and the six Americans weaving their way through Iranian security, boarding the Swiss Air jet that would take them to freedom, and at last hearing that “alcoholic beverages were now being served” (because the airplane had cleared Iranian airspace) — had me on the edge of my seat, silently cheering for the Americans and against the Iranians. The good guys had won and, for one brief moment in the midst of the 444-day Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Ayatollah and the Iranian crazies had been bested.

My oldest son is now the age that I was when the events depicted in “Argo” took place. I still remember when I heard the news (with my parents watching NBC Nightly News) that the six Americans had escaped Iran with the help of the Canadians. We cheered. America celebrated. Until “Argo,” I hadn’t realized just how improbable and incredible it was that any of our American Embassy personnel escaped from Iran, much less that the C.I.A. and Hollywood (yes, Hollywood) had a hand in the great escape. Go figure!

While I’m quite sure that Ben Affleck could never have anticipated that the release of his latest film would coincide with the violent protests that would once again target our Embassies in the Middle East, watching Argo is a vivid reminder that we still live in a dangerous world full of radical Islamic extremists who are bent on killing Americans — both at home and abroad. “Argo” is a very good movie. Go see it. But, if you are my age or older, just be prepared for a humorously — and deadly serious — ride back to the future!

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6 Responses to "Argo: A Humorously Serious Ride Back to the Future"

  1. kevin s says:

    The roots of the Iranian debacle far predate anything Carter may have done. It started when our CIA overthrew the elected government and installed a despotic Shah, setting up a backlash which led to the Islamic revolution. We make it too easy for our adversaries sometimes.

    1. Howell Scott says:

      Kevin,

      First, thanks for taking the time to read and to comment this morning. I appreciate it. I won’t necessarily disagree with your observation about the CIA overthrowing the Iranian government and installing the Shah as root causes which eventually led to the Iranian revolution. However, the American President at the time of the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis — Jimmy Carter — showed inept leadership (IMO) throughout the crisis. His lack of strong leadership — both towards Iran and as perceived by the American people during the 444 day long crisis — was most likely one of the main reasons he lost to Ronald Reagan. And, the economy, too. But, you are right that we do make it far too easy for our enemies many times. Thanks again for stopping by. God bless,

      Howell

  2. Bennett Willis says:

    There are a couple of things that I remember about the rescue attempt. One was the Iranian cleric who (on the evening news) was shown with a box of items that had come from the wreckage of the planes that collided. He picked up a hand (it looked like to me) and dropped it back into the box with complete disrespect for the person it had belonged to. I always thought that this demonstrated that the combined thoughts of a million people have no effect. If they had, the cleric would have vanished in a puff of smoke.

    I’ve always wondered if the embassy had shreaders with enough horsepower to take documents at a high rate of speed or if those running them had to be careful not to overload the capability of the machines. After that, I suspect that our embassies were equipped with high horsepower, cross cut, machines.

    I don’t think it is reasonable to charge Mr. Carter with the deaths of the 8. Accidents happen. The attempt seemed to have been optimistic and required a lot of things to work right. Maybe this is your basis, and if so, I have no rebuttal.

    1. Howell Scott says:

      Bennett,

      I admit that I have a bias against Mr. Carter. I probably could have left out my indictment of him in this review of Argo, but since he injected himself into the movie, I couldn’t help myself. If you have not seen the movie, then you don’t know that he “opened the door” with his closing commentary (voice-over) which just reminded me of his lack of leadership from beginning to end of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. You are right that accidents happen, but, at the end of the day, the buck should stop on the Commander-in-Chief’s desk. That doesn’t always happen, but it should (regardless of party). Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  3. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Apart from this liberal nod to the second-worst President [President Jimmy Carter] in my lifetime, “Argo” was thoroughly enjoyable and riveting from beginning to end.”

    Curious. Was Jimmy Carter promoted to “Second-Worst President” from “Worst President” in your lifetime within the last decade or half-decade?

    1. Howell Scott says:

      Truth,

      To put your curious mind at ease, I would say President Carter went from worst to second-worst President in the last 4 1/2 years :-) Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

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