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Does Argo Put Enough ‘Islamic’ in the ‘Revolution’?

A taut, gripping thriller wades into historical subject matter near and dear to today's headlines.

by
Bridget Johnson

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October 12, 2012 - 2:09 pm
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Who says Hollywood isn’t wading into political terrain anymore? Before the start of Argo today, my local theater showed a trailer for a remake of Red Dawn. But instead of Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen fighting red commie Soviets who invade their town, teens including Tom Cruise’s son Connor will be fighting off an invasion of red commie North Koreans.

Hooray for the implausible scenario but at least plausible bad guys in a town that has reduced the pool of politically acceptable villains to the milquetoast bad generic Europeans with Julian Assange hair (a la Alias) and the occasional Somali pirate. Pyongyang’s buttons will burst with pride at the thought of bringing Washington state (not Colorado, as in the original, but I guess it’s closer for a financially strapped fighting force) to its knees, and Kim Jong Un will likely screen the movie in Kim Il-Sung Square in honor of dear old departed movie-buff Dad (editing out the ending where they invariably lose).

So I was especially intrigued to see how Ben Affleck and Co., institutional Hollywood to the core, would handle the Iran hostage crisis.

Especially as Iran is currently up to more dastardly (nuclear) deeds and time has shown that the Islamic Revolution has only sown hatred, anti-Semitism, and global insecurity.

Especially as time has shown that the Islamic Republic still holds Americans hostage — see the 2009-2011 detention of hikers Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Joshua Fattal after they likely didn’t cross the border in Kurdish mountains.

One couldn’t have predicted this in scheduling the film’s release date, but the opening scenes of protesters burning the American flag and scaling the walls of the embassy in Tehran are eerily reminiscent of scenes we saw just weeks ago out of Cairo, and the storming of the compound brings a chill when thinking of Benghazi.

The film opens with an abridged timeline that points the finger at the U.S. for installing Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ushered in “an era of torture and fear” and began “a campaign to Westernize Iran.” This mini-history left out the role of the Islamist movement and its motivations to forge a theocratic state.

The opening sequence of Argo, as the Iran hostage crisis begins, is similar to the sequence of terrorists storming the Israeli athletes’ dorm in Munich. Whatever one thinks of the substance or direction in the rest of the movie, these scenes stand on their own, displaying the chilling brutality of terrorism without any further explanation needed.

The militants ransacking the Tehran compound find an Ayatollah Khomeini dartboard, which is pretty awesome and predictably infuriates the bunch. They also find the documents hastily shredded when embassy staff couldn’t get an incinerator to do its job, and the Revolutionary Guards task a bunch of children to piece together the shreds, sweatshop-style. What Washington fears they’ll soon realize is that six staffers slipped out in the chaos and made their way to the Canadian embassy.

The reaction from a head spook back at the CIA wanders into the “but we must’ve deserved it” territory – also familiar territory these days.

“What’d you expect?” one character says. “We helped a guy torture and deball their entire population.”

The agency comes to the conclusion that they must “send in a Moses” to extract the six Americans — exfiltration expert Tony Mendez.

While watching Return to the Planet of the Apes, Mendez, played extremely well by Affleck, comes up with the “flamboyant cover identity” through which he believes he can get the Americans out of Iran. He enlists the help of veteran make-up artist John Chambers, played by John Goodman, to set up the fake sci-fi film Argo that would need a Middle Eastern landscape. “So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without doing anything?” Chambers quips. “You’ll fit right in.”

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