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IN SHORT: applause worthy. [Rated R for language and some violent images. 120 minutes]
Cranky's first career was in the radio business. Our preference was AOR format rock radio but for about five years we worked at NBC News. We had worked for NBC during the Illinois presidential primaries in 1976 and post college on staff at 30 Rock from 1979 to 1985. The greatest individual day in Studio 5B at 30 Rock was January 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President, concurrent with the release of the American hostages that had been locked up in Iran for a year. That debacle brought down Jimmy Carter's presidency. Directing the radio network coverage; jumping from reporters in Jerusalem and Germany and D.C. and many points in between was beyond a blast. Argo is not that story. We're just setting a scene and lapsing into a nostalgic haze . . .
The film of Argo recounts a story that would go insanely beyond that aformentioned kind of blast, because it involves six other Americans in Iran, who managed to get out of the American embassy in Tehran and hide in the personal residence of the Canadian ambassador. Approximately 90 days later, the Canadians managed to get the six out of Iran and they were quietly thanked from the floor of both houses of Congress.
It would have been a much bigger story but, at the time, there were a lot of American lives on the line; hostages in our embassy. This story didn't get a big play so as not to agitate the radicals in Tehran.
As it turns out, the rescue was a CIA operation all along. Argo is the story of how the CIA snuck the six out of Iran under the guise of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a "soon to be major motion picture". How the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) aided the effort, putting the lives of his family on the line. How CIA "exfiltration" specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) engineered a plan that, if a writer made the story up, no one would ever believe it.
The plan involves real Hollywood and a fake Canadian produced movie that needs locations that only a country like Iran can provide: Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a name brand producer and John Chambers (John Goodman), a makeup and effects artist are recruited to seal the deal. Trade ads, a cattle call audition and open reading of a terrible script called "Argo" -- the negotiations for the rights to use the script by Max Klein (Richard Kind) add the kind of "comic" relief that a story like this needs. You'll know it when you see it -- follow. Soon, it's off to Tehran where the phrase "hide in plain sight" takes on a whole different meaning and the CIA finally gets something done right.
Well, if they didn't, you'd be reading about it in history books.
For those old enough to remember the Iran Hostage crisis first hand, it's hard to conceive of any story set in that time and place that could actually be a great film to watch. So . . . don't think about it too much. Those too young to know won't have to do much to figure out the situation and the consequences.
Without telling you another word about the story we'll get to the important part: Argo delivers the kind of rare and particularly satisfying movie moments that spur a viewing audience to spontaneously burst into applause. Ours did.
So, if you're wasting your time reading about the film, first, stop wasting your time.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Argo, he would have paid . . .
The $9* rating is given equally to all films that possess that certain "statue worthy" element that becomes important as the year wraps up. Ben Affleck has done a masterful job as both actor and director.
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