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!