Friday, April 18, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Argo’: The best film Hollywood never made

By
From page A7 | October 12, 2012 | Leave Comment

“Argo”

4.5 stars

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall

Rating: R, for profanity and dramatic intensity

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

The events depicted in “Argo” wouldn’t be believed in a novel; the wild ’n’ crazy premise defies credibility. And yet this bizarre CIA mission actually took place during the Iranian hostage crisis; indeed, it was a rare burst of sunlight during the 444 grim days that Islamist students and militants held 52 captives in Tehran’s American Embassy.

“Argo” can be placed alongside 1995’s “Apollo 13,” as a thoroughly engrossing drama that loses none of its tension despite our knowing the outcome. Chris Terrio’s script blends established fact with third-act dramatic license and some unexpectedly droll dialogue; yes, it’s possible to derive humor from these life-and-death events.

The package is assembled with directorial snap by Ben Affleck, who also grants himself the plum role of Antonio “Tony” Mendez, the CIA “exfil” (exfiltration) specialist charged with a real-life impossible mission. Affleck — as director — capably introduces the key players and sets up the plot elements, slides into a scheme as audacious as any caper thriller ever concocted by Hollywood, and then tightens the screws until the tension is unbearable.

The film opens with a prologue, depicted in movie-style storyboards, that outlines the post-WWII American “meddling” that restored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power in Iran in 1953. Although a well-protected monarch for the next quarter-century, the shah was recognized in his own country as little more than an American puppet; he eventually was deposed in February 1979 by a revolution that led to the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The fractured relationship between the United States and Iran worsened as that year progressed, then splintered entirely when the despised shah — ill with cancer — was admitted to the United States for treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Two weeks later, on Nov. 4, an enraged mob broke through the American Embassy gates, stormed the building and orchestrated the stand-off that kept us — and much of the world — glued to news channels for the next 14 months.

Affleck begins his film at this point, and the powder-keg build-up to the embassy storming is deeply unsettling. The American efforts at damage control — and document destruction — are akin to spitting in the wind. Then comes the detail often forgotten when we recall these ghastly events: Although the aforementioned 52 Americans are captured quickly, six others manage to slip away in the confusion; they’re given shelter — and concealment — in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

The situation is precarious: The Iranians soon realize that the six embassy people are missing, although their identities remain unknown … for the moment.

Back in the States, Mendez is summoned by Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), the assistant deputy director of the CIA. Mendez watches as various analysts, having been made aware of the six stranded Americans, blue-sky some truly ludicrous rescue suggestions, each one dumber than the last. (You gotta love the plan to bicycle out of Iran.)

Then Mendez uncorks something even more audacious.

“You don’t have a better bad idea than this?” he’s incredulously asked.

“This is the best bad idea we have,” Mendez replies. “By far.”

Affleck gives that line just the right reading. It’s funny … but our laughter is strained, because we recognize the need for desperate measures.

Mendez understands a core truth: Everybody bends over backwards for a film crew on a location shoot, even during times of political crisis. Mendez also has an ace up his sleeve: an association with John Chambers, a veteran Hollywood makeup specialist who won an honorary Academy Award in 1968, for his work on “Planet of the Apes,” and also exercised his extensive talents on television’s original “Star Trek.”

On the side, unknown to his Tinseltown friends, Chambers also applied his skills to governmental intelligence operations.

Chambers is played, with oversized verve, by John Goodman. It’s a plum role to begin with, and Terrio feeds the actor plenty of deliciously snarky dialogue. Indeed, Goodman would run away with the film, were it not for the third key player in what becomes a fascinating Hollywood charade: Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a legendary movie mogul brought in to legitimize the plan.

Arkin and Goodman may be the best Mutt ’n’ Jeff tag team ever caught on camera; they’re simply hilarious together, even as events in Iran escalate from tense to nail-biting.

Siegel is Terrio’s one fabrication: a composite character drawn from various movie colony types. Although Siegel is considered past his sell-by date, he’s no less feisty and committed to the power of The Big Lie. And the scheme is heaven-sent to such a colorful, blustery individual: Siegel’s last big hurrah will be a film that doesn’t really exist … but could save six lives.

Because that’s what “Argo” is: a wholly fabricated Studio Six science-fiction spectacular and “cosmic conflagration,” set on a distant, arid planet, which blends the then-ubiquitous formula of spaceships, aliens, action and stalwart young heroes rescuing otherworldly maidens. If this wholly fictitious production can be granted the imprimatur of authenticity, then Mendez can fly into Iran — as a Studio Six co-producer — and return with the six members of his Canadian location-scouting film crew.

Simply, utterly mad.

Affleck (as director) and editor William Goldenberg smoothly cut between simultaneous events: the Hollywood efforts to raise awareness of “Argo” and Studio Six; the fraying nerves of the six Americans who dare not be seen outside Ambassador Taylor’s home; and the massive Iranian effort to piece together shredded documents, in order to identify those same six people.

Since Mendez initially is surrounded by such flamboyant actors — Cranston’s O’Donnell is just as richly theatrical as Arkin and Goodman — Affleck wisely modulates his performance in the other direction. His take on Mendez is cool and collected: a patch of calm in an otherwise turbulent ocean. It’s a crucial reading, because it lends conviction to Mendez’s insistence — when he eventually outlines this crazy scheme to the six dubious Americans — that yes, he can pull this off.

Affleck and Terrio build to a stunner of a third act, and here the split-second timing begins to feel a bit Hollywood-esque. But you’re unlikely to care; when the overall package is this accomplished, it’s easy to forgive minor detours from the path of absolute truth.

In five short years, and over the course of three films — starting with “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” — Affleck has demonstrated increasingly skilled directorial chops. “Argo” is the sort of industry-themed project that inevitably draws Oscar attention; that would be another well-deserved feather in the cap of the talented writer/director/producer/actor who first hit our radar when he shared an Academy Award for scripting “Good Will Hunting.”

Frankly, I can’t wait to see what Affleck does next.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

Former caretaker convicted of murder, elder abuse

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1, 4 Comments | Gallery

 
Old friend helps Brad and others find kidneys

By Dave Jones | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Chuck Rairdan joins school board race

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

Going green at church, school, everywhere

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
For the record

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

 
UCD to host Global Health Day event

By Cory Golden | From Page: A2

Ukraine insurgents reject call to quit buildings

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2, 3 Comments

 
Need a new best friend?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
‘Hitchhiking’ dog looking for new home

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Online K-12 school holds info night

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Volkssporting Club plans North Davis walks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Schwenger lawn signs available

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

Volunteers needed for Grad Night

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Davis grad makes rain collection a business

By Jason McAlister | From Page: A4 | Gallery

A few spots left on history tour

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Chipotle fundraiser boosts Emerson tech upgrade

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Event to provide nature scholarship

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Students have new options on leasing front

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Groups join for a day of service

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
NAMI backers walk in Sacramento

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

 
Food for the hungry

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

.

Forum

Dad makes mom look bad

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

 
More tax money? Answer the question

By Rich Rifkin | From Page: A6, 4 Comments

 
UCD IS responsible for students

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 4 Comments

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

 
In search of great ideas

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Please keep the nursery open

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Early help is a great investment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

.

Sports

Aggies lose a slugfest in opener at Riverside

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Fox coming to UCD; Riffle heads to Florida

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

DHS’ Golston goes full-bore on the diamond

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Devils show more life in loss to Mitty

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Sharks double up Kings in Game 1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
DYSA roundup: Intensity has big week; 10U games dominate schedule

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Pro baseball roundup: Susac sends Sacramento to a rare loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Sports briefs: Aggies set the academic bar high

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8 | Gallery

.

Features

.

Arts

‘The Bloom’ paves way for Whole Earth Festival

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
DHS tribute to Tony Fields slated for April 25-26

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

UCD, city team up for Music on the Green

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
‘Transcendence’: A whole new level of tedium

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

.

Business

Ford turns its Focus to domestic market

By Ali Arsham | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Friday, April 18, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A9

 
.

Real Estate Review

Featured Listing

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER1

Professional Services Directory

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER2

Lyon Real Estate

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER3

Acacia at Huntington Square

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Jamie Madison

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Yolo FCU

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Travis Credit Union

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER5

Kim Eichorn

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER6

Suzanne Kimmel

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER6

Lynne Wegner

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

Kim Merrel Lamb

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

Patricia Echevarria

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

Chris Snow

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

Sheryl Patterson

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

Don Guthrie

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

Andrew Dowling

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

Coldwell Banker

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER10

Coldwell Banker

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER11

Heather Barnes

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER12

Julie Partain & Dick Partain

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER12

Malek Baroody

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER13

Karen Waggoner

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER14

Willowbank Park

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER14

Julie Leonard

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

Tim Harrison

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

Team Traverso

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

Tracy Harris

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

Lori Prizmich

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

Joe Kaplan

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

Raul Zamora

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

Coldwell Banker

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER18

Open House Map

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER19

F1rst Street Real Estate

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER20