Ian Berke, realtor and real estate in San Francisco
Ian's Listings
SF listings
About SF
About Ian
Ian's List
Film Reviews
Stone Books
Legal & Privacy

tel 415.921.7300
cell 415.860.2777

DRE #444020

Film Review


In early 1979, the Iranian people overthrew the Shah, who had alienated large sections of Iranian society by his extravagant life style, his brutal security service, and his attempts to westernize the country. The Shah fled to Egypt, then Mexico, but later asked to come to the United States for medical treatment. The Iranian revolutionary movement was already angry with America for its involvement in the 1953 coup, which had deposed a popularly elected president who had threatened to nationalize the oil industry. The US had supported the Shah for 25 years of increasingly unpopular rule and granting him shelter and medical treatment had created a widespread sense of fury in Iran. On November 4,1979, the American embassy in Tehran was invaded and overrun by a large crowd of revolutionary students, who captured, beat, and moved the American ambassador and his staff (52 Americans) to a prison. The Marine security force had been instructed not to fire lest it start a major diplomatic incident. This became known as the Iran Hostage Crisis, and lasted 444 days until the hostages were released on the very day that Reagan was inaugurated. America was riveted, angry, yet very limited in how it could respond without jeopardizing the lives of the hostages. The hostages endured torture, including repeated threats of killing, mock executions and beatings. A bold but risky rescue plan failed when one of the helicopters collided on the ground with the refueling tanker, killing six American serviceman. The embassy seizure and the failed rescue attempt doomed President Carter's second run for office as his response was perceived as too weak. Many called for war with Iran, yet Carter's restraint probably saved the lives of the hostages. Ultimately Iran paid a very heavy price for the hostage taking. When Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980 and began a bloody ten year war with Iran, satellite photos supplied by the US and weapons supplied by the West and Arab countries took a very heavy toll on the Iranian Army. An embargo on weapons to Iran forced them to rely on Chinese aircraft and weaponry, which were much inferior to what Iraq was able to purchase. Further, the extensive use of chemical weapons by Iraq, which caused massive Iranian casualties, was largely ignored by the West, who felt that Iran was the aggressor. Most Americans over the age of 50 will remember this period well.

Now Ben Affleck, well known actor and lately, director ("Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town"), has made a real thriller, "Argo", about a little known incident of six Americans who had fled the embassy compound, unnoticed by the mob, and ultimately found shelter in the Canadian ambassador's home, unbeknownst to the Iranians. The Iranians, who seized the embassy records, had all the staff members' names and biographies. Their photographs had been shredded, but the Iranians used young children to piece together the shredded records. The State Department and the CIA tried to devise schemes to extract them but all seemed impractical or too dangerous. However one CIA officer, Tony Mendez, who was an expert on extraction, hit on the idea of making a fake film in Iran, with the six Americans to be represented as the advance film team, Canadians, scouting locations. As Mendez said: "It is the best of our bad ideas". Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, contacts a producer he knows in Hollywood (marvelously played by John Goodman), who begins to assemble a Hollywood team, including another producer, played by Alan Arkin. Both characters are based on real producers who helped the CIA. The film begins with a brief recent history of Iran, narrated, using cartoon panels, then to archival footage of the revolution, and finally to the assault on the embassy. The film's crowd scenes are amazing, and it is hard to believe that we are not looking at archival footage, which is also used powerfully in the credits. The tension is enormous, fast paced, and Affleck frequently cuts between the chaotic scenes at the embassy, the escape, and the Hollywood setting of the story, the assembling of the film team and the attempts to create a legitimacy by making film posters, advertising, etc. The dialogue in the Hollywood office is often hilarious. When Mendez asks how could we train one of the hidden to pose as a director, Goodman's character says that "You could teach rhesus monkey to be a director". Then Affleck cuts back to the tiny room in the basement of the ambassador's house where the six Americans are hiding.

Affleck has made a smart, history based thriller, with complexity, nuance, and excellent directing of his huge cast. There is a realism here, and far less violence and hysterics than in his previous films, replaced with a focus on story and characters. The acting is never less than first rate, and he uses good but lesser known actors, such as Clea DuVall, Kerry Bishe, and Taylor Schilling. He underplays his own part, which contributes considerably to the atmosphere and allows the other key actors to shine. The tension never lets up, except the Hollywood scenes, and becomes even more intense as the story continues. No one will fall asleep in this film. Cinematography is accomplished, especially in the many closeups of the six. "Argo" is an impressive film, doubly so originating from Hollywood, and will surely be an Oscar contender in several categories, including best film. Exactly two hours long, but moves quickly. Definitely see this on the big screen. Just opened widely, and playing at the Kabuki, the Vogue, the AMC, the Marina, and the Empire (West Portal) in San Francisco.

Return to the List of Film Reviews

Home | Ian's Listings | SF listings | Rentals | Architecture | About SF | About Ian |
Ian's List | Legal & Privacy | ian@ianberke.com | © 2009- ianberke.com