By Kevin Williams
The Ben Affleck-directed film ARGO opens today and after seeing it, I am compelled to tell you dear reader that you should see this film and bring as many of your friends as possible. As a film-goer, as a filmmaker and as a Politics & History buff – this is the best film of the year in my humble opinion. Artistically and as serious entertainment, ARGO delivers the goods in spades.
As an 11 year-old, I remember the start of the Iran Hostage Crisis quite clearly. From the first images of our fellow Americans’ bandaged-covered heads to Ayatollah Khomeini’s frightening image to the growing impotence of our Government to Ted Koppel saying, “Day XXX of the Crisis in Iran. This is NIGHTLINE.” I remember the hundreds and thousands of American Flags and Yellow Ribbons covering our neighborhoods in support of our kidnapped Americans. Finally, I also remember all the bumper stickers and signs saying “Thanks Canada” in the weeks and months after our six Americans came home. There was no touchdown-spike for this great success, just a thank you and a deep gratitude for our neighbor to the North.
As a historical presentation, ARGO accurately portrays the fall of the Shah and the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran which led to the taking of our U.S. Embassy and fifty-two of our fellow Americans in Tehran on November 4, 1979. These events changed our world and the American hostages that were taken by some Iranian “students” would be held for 444 days and subjected to all kinds of mental torture and deprivation. Our country has been in a Cold-Proxy War with Iran ever since January 20, 1981 when our hostages were freed and President Reagan took the Oath of Office. This much we all know or should know.
What many of us have been unaware of until now is what happened to the six Americans who escaped from our Embassy and were hidden Anne Frank-style by some very brave Canadian Embassy staff. More so, in an era when our Middle Eastern intelligence operatives and their leaders are again pressed to keep us safe, we learn of the bravery, guts and ingenuity of CIA Agent Tony Mendez, his Team and a couple of great Hollywood patriots. Their collective story came about after the taking of our Tehran Embassy and ended with a sudden freedom from Iranian airspace that is pulse-poundingly believable and inspiring as any movie you’ll likely see. The first fifteen minutes of ARGO document the Embassy takeover and rival the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan in their intensity, even without bloodshed. Mr. Affleck and his Production Team are to be commended for making these scenes so realistic, harrowing and effective.
In an age when partisanship may be at its highest levels and at least outwardly, Hollywood can be arguably accused of being unpatriotic, ARGO introduces us to John Chambers (a real Patriot played by John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (a composite Patriot played by Alan Arkin). Both characters are two bonafide patriots working with Tony Mendez trying to help their Country and their fellow Americans home. The three men form a dummy production company as a front and call it Studio Six (naming it after the six Americans they were trying to rescue). While many of the film’s lighter scenes come from the Hollywood end of this super-secret rescue operation, these scenes clearly show how on-the-edge and under the radar this incredible rescue or “exfiltration mission” really was.
There are some funny, heartwarming scenes in the film which takes place in an era when cell phones didn’t exist, Led Zeppelin was still together and most Americans couldn’t place Iran (or Iraq) on a map. The Carter Era is in full-effect and for those too young to know or remember, ARGO will educate them on the events leading up to the Embassy takeover, the depraved violence of Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime and the unforgettable sounds of “Death to America” chants in Farsi which we saw/heard on TV every night. This movie production is spot-on in the clothing, technology and cultural details of the times. Except for social media, the clothes and the music, today’s Iran doesn’t seem very dissimilar from the one in this film. I don’t think this point will be lost on anyone.
Given current events, it will be hard for anyone to not see some Carter/Obama parallels in the story of ARGO. The timing of this film’s release was determined months ago, but the recent events in Benghazi and Cairo surely will pique interest in this Oscar-worthy film. ARGO may even awaken some Audience members to what is going on in the Middle East today. Mr. Affleck told Entertainment Weekly that “Even for a guy who spent more than a year telling a story about American diplomats in danger overseas, I was stunned when it happened again.” Yes, it did happen again and this film is powerful, truthful and clear in its story telling and its foreshadowing of events to come in the future. So much so, that Audiences should make sure to stay through the credits. If you do stay in your seat, you’ll hear former President Carter’s comments on the aftermath of the ARGO CIA mission. His comments may very well stir up their own 2012 Election controversy.
Mr. Affleck and I (like many of you) may not vote the same way in a few weeks, but he and his Producers (including one George Clooney) deserve our time, our money and our thanks. Without a political axe to grind, these filmmakers have made a film which holds a story for the ages and one where the Good Guys (Us) win. Mr. Tony Mendez’ skillfulness, resourcefulness and can-do attitude are refreshing reminders of how lucky we are to have such men and women keeping the wolf from our door. After what seems like a long string of poorly-performing, anti-American films, ARGO is one film we ALL can root for.
Please try to see ARGO for yourself this weekend and then come back to Politisite to let us know your thoughts.
Kevin Williams directed and produced the documentary feature film FEAR OF A BLACK REPUBLICAN after working in a variety of production roles on films such as A BEAUTIFUL MIND, SIGNS, HACK, SURRENDER DOROTHY, LIKE MIKE, I.Q., and JERSEY GIRL. In addition, Kevin served as the Founding Director/Artistic Director of the Trenton Film Festival in Trenton, NJ. He also teaches Documentary and Narrative Filmmaking.