History tells us that the Americans made it out alive, but I must confess to feeling dread as I watched the final 20 minutes of Argo. I bought this film--hook, line and sinker--entirely to the credit of director and star Ben Affleck, who needs to make some room on his mantel for a second Oscar.[ Video is no longer available. ]
Argo is being launched into theaters at a time when we know all too well how bad things can go at an American embassy. In fact, less than 12 hours prior to its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in an attack on our Benghazi consulate.
With emotions so raw, I risked either a miserable or exhilarating experience in watching Argo at TIFF. I'm happy to report that it was the latter. It turns out that Argo is indeed an important film, asking us to consider valor, sacrifice and duty to foreign service.
Argo, the movie, is about Argo, the movie that never was. Concocted with just enough phoniness to pass as a "legitimate" Hollywood film, the CIA used the guise of a faux-movie to scout shooting locations in Iran. The plan, ridiculous at best, was to smuggle the six Americans out as members of the film crew.
"This is the best bad idea we have," says CIA boss Jack O'Donnell (Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston) before sending operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) on a fool's errand. In Mendez, whose identity was only recently declassified, we are introduced to an unlikely hero of the highest order.
Affleck and Cranston are supported by a superb cast, including Victor Garber (Alias) and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights). But it's Alan Arkin and John Goodman who steal the show as a pair of grizzled Hollywood veterans recruited to front the phony Argo. Here's a bit of their repartee:
"Oh well, history begins as farce and ends as tragedy," says Arkin's Lester Siegel.
"I think you have that backwards," responds Goodman's John Chambers. "History begins as tragedy and ends as farce."
"Really? Who said that?"
"Groucho said that?"
Priceless. If it weren't for such comic relief, Argo would be almost uncomfortably taut. Instead, it's a fluid story with heart and humor that also happens to thrust its audience into a geopolitical hell.
Along with Silver Linings Playbook and the much-anticipated Lincoln from Steven Spielberg, Argo needs to be at the top of your must-see list. Right now, I'm betting that Argo wins Best Picture. Hollywood loves a happy ending, especially when it is the hero.