Argo  (2012)    31/100

Rating :   31/100                                                                     120 Min        15

The sheer and unequivocal arrogance of this film is grotesque and abhorrent to say the least, as the filmmakers rewrite a now well documented piece of history giving the American authorities credit for other people’s bravery and work, and making cheap political digs at Iran’s expense in the process.

Leaving aside the factual debacle for the moment, the film follows the events surrounding the storming of the American embassy, and subsequent hostage taking of the diplomats, in Tehran in 1979 by a mob of angry Iranians (many of them students) over Jimmy Carter’s decision to allow sanctuary in the States to the deposed Iranian Shah. During the panic a small group of Americans managed to get away and find secret refuge with Canadian diplomats elsewhere in the city. CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendes (Ben Affleck – also the director of the film) is hired to think of a way to get them out of the country, and comes up with the notion of passing them off as a Canadian film crew, location scouting for a new, fake, Sci-Fi film entitled ‘Argo’. The rest of the film follows that escape attempt.

The style and feel of the film is accessible and noteworthy, with a lot of attention being paid to the fashion and trends of the day, and a decent amount of humour has been sewn into the script for the first half of the film. The direction is also well paced and involving for the first half, music is well used throughout, and there exist a lot of nice touches, especially with the fake Sci-Fi movie, even if some of them feel a little too modern, such as the robot they create for it. It is perhaps easy to see why people in the industry love this film, as we get a glimpse of the behind the scenes world of Hollywood via Oscar winning makeup artist and CIA helper John Chambers (John Goodman) who aids the set up of Argo to look authentic, one of the few things it gets historically correct. There are more than one or two digs at Hollywood as an industry, and nods in the Academy’s direction with mention of multiple Oscar winners ‘Network’ and ‘Kramer versus Kramer’ (‘Argo’ itself is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture).

The film suffers a severe problem with its marketing, in that if you’ve seen the trailer, you can pretty safely infer several key things about the film. With that in mind, a lot of the tension that Affleck tries to create feels entirely artificial. This is taken to the point of lunacy as, despite the fact they have been in hiding for seventy nine days, about four or five things converge at pretty much the exact moment in time in order to try and escalate the tension as much as possible, but to say it’s unbelievable would be like saying it’s a little chillier in space than it is here on Earth. At one point an Iranian guard has a huge rant in Farsi at a befuddled Affleck and co even though we’ve already been told these members of the military were likely educated in the west, and sure enough we later hear him speaking in English, all purely so the situation seems more extreme. It ends up being much the same as watching an action film where the hero escapes by always being one second faster than the hail of bullets and explosions dogging his shadow, and by the lack of any real intelligence in the bad guys.

Purely viewed as entertainment and ignoring history completely, I would rate this somewhere in the lower sixties. However, what this film has done with history simply cannot be ignored. Jimmy Carter has said himself in interview with Piers Morgan (something showing in itself a lack of political savvy) that ninety percent of the entire rescue operation was Canadian, whereas ‘Argo’ would have us believe that statistic belonged wholesale to the U.S. administration. A secondary great evil is that in the film it is stated very clearly that both New Zealand and The United Kingdom refused to give sanctuary to the American diplomats, something which is an outright disgraceful lie, both countries actively helped – one of those involved in the events, Bob Anders, said after seeing the film “They put their lives on the line for us. We were all at risk. I hope no one in Britain will be offended by what’s said in the film. The British were good to us and we’re forever grateful.” How in the name of hell do George Clooney and co. (he is one of the producers) think it is ok to rewrite history as they see fit? I mean, they have actually stated the very polar opposite of what actually happened, both here and generally (although Tony Mendez did come up with the Argo idea and did work for the CIA). Affleck has said that he lied about the other countries involvement as he wanted to show that these people had nowhere else to go, but since they ended up with the Canadians eventually, because everyone agreed it was becoming too dangerous everywhere else anyway, why in the name of bloody hell don’t they just tell the truth!!! The Red Dragon watches a good many films, and when it comes to history in the movies you learn to always take it with a pinch of salt, however even I, though I thought it strange, was inclined to believe them when they said sanctuary was denied because it is presented as fact, and it’s the sort of thing that you think well surely they wouldn’t make that up?

This is just the beginning of the gross make believe that was put into the film, indeed, almost everything in the second half is a complete fabrication. Including the Iranians forcing children in a sweat shop at gun point to reassemble shredded mug shots of the consulate staff – there were no mug shots, and consular documents were reassembled by the Iranian students who could read English. There are several ironies here too, one being when Alan Arkin’s character (another fiction by the way) bemoans the Canadians taking the credit for the operation, and another the efforts taken to make the actors playing those in hiding look like their real life counterparts as they show during the end credits – if they are going to go to those lengths for cosmetic details which do not matter ultimately why in the name of God not make the actual story accurate, or for that matter cast Affleck as Mendez who is in fact Mexican? Indeed, in reality it seems Mr Mendez, come the day of the actual exfiltration, slept in by half an hour, and had to actually be woken up by one of the New Zealand diplomats that the film claims turned the Americans away! See the Guardian article here for more details.

Another outrageous lie is delivered via a sinister choice of quote from Jimmy Carter, also as the end credits play, as he states “Eventually we got every hostage back home safe and sound, and we upheld the integrity of our country and we did it peacefully” – this is with regard to the remaining hostages who were the ones actually seized by the Iranians and properly held captive, whose fate ‘Argo’ makes no other reference too. Well, in reality the Americans attempted a military rescue which was a complete and unmitigated disaster, resulting in abortion half way through and the death of several American service men and one innocent Iranian civilian. It is generally thought to have been a major factor in Carter losing the presidency later that year, and indeed literally minutes after he had left office, Iran released all the hostages.

This film is an absolute disgrace, and it deserves to be lambasted, not rewarded as, unfortunately, it is in danger of being at the upcoming Oscars. Even its inclusion of a dilapidated Hollywood sign on Lee Hill is ironic as it had actually been repaired by the time of the events depicted, and the film itself represents Hollywood at its most careless. On the back of this we can look forward to Affleck’s next project about the Americans who invented ice hockey, and then his piece on the beginnings of the industrial revolution, in Philadelphia. His last two films (‘The Town’, ‘Gone Baby Gone’) were both great, but if you can’t make the truth work on film, to the point where you’re advocating and propagating a lie, then you have no right to be working in the medium.

Argo fuck yourself Ben Affleck.


Quotes

“’Hmm let’s see. Well, this one’s got an MA in English, she should be your screenwriter. Sometimes they go along on scouts, because they want their free meals. Here’s your director.’ {Chambers}
‘You can teach someone to be a director in a day?’ {Mendez}
‘You can teach a rhesus monkey to be a director in a day.’ {Chambers}” John Goodman/John Chambers and Ben Affleck/Tony Mendez

“So you want to come to Hollywood, and act like a big shot, without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in.” John Goodman/John Chambers

“If he could act he wouldn’t be playing the minotaur” John Goodman/John Chambers

“Ok, you got six people hiding out in a town of what, four million people all of whom chant death to America all the live long day, you want to set up a movie in a week, you want to lie to Hollywood, a town where everybody lies for a living, then you’re gonna sneak 007 over here into a country that wants CIA blood on their breakfast cereal, and you’re going to walk the Brady Bunch out of the most watched city in the world…. Right. Look, I, I gotta tell you, we did suicide missions in the army that had better odds than this.” Alan Arkin/Lester Siegel

“Hi, I only got a couple of minutes, I’m getting a lifetime achievement award… I’d rather stay home and count the wrinkles on my dog’s balls.” Alan Arkin/Lester Siegel

“If I’m doing a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit” Alan Arkin/Lester Siegel

“Well, what can I say. Congratulations. But see, it kinda worries me when you say that, and let me tell you why. Couple of weeks ago I was sitting at Trader Vic’s enjoying a Mai Tai, when my pal Warren Beatty comes in, he wishes me well, we have a little chat. Seems he was attached to star in Zulu Empire, which was going to anchor that MGM slate, but Warren confided in me that the picture’s gone over budget because the Zulu extras want to unionise. They may be cannibals, but they want health and dental so the movie’s kaput, which means that the MGM deal ain’t gonna happen, and your script ain’t worth the buffalo shit on a nickel. So, the way it looks to me, through the cataracts I grant you, is that you can either sign here, and take ten thousand dollars for your toilet paper script, or you can go fuck yourself. With all due respect.” Alan Arkin/Lester Siegel

“Bad news, bad news. Even when it’s good news it’s bad news. John Wayne’s in the ground six months, this is what’s left of America.” Alan Arkin/Lester Siegel

“Fade in on a star ship landing. An exotic middle-Eastern vibe. Women gather offering ecstatic libations to the sky gods. Argo, science fantasy adventure.” Ben Affleck/Tony Mendez

“Hi, my name’s Kevin Harkins and, I’m going to get you home.” Ben Affleck/Tony Mendez

“This is what I do. I get people out. And I’ve never left anyone behind… My name is Tony Mendez, I’m from New York, my father worked construction, my mother teaches elementary school, I have a wife and a ten year old son. You play along with me today I promise you I will get you out tomorrow.” Ben Affleck/Tony Mendez

“Brace yourself, it’s like talking to those two old fucks on the Muppets.” Bryan Cranston/Jack O’Donnell

“This is the best bad idea we have sir, by far.” Bryan Cranston/Jack O’Donnell

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