Mendez stresses that in order for the ruse to work, everything must proceed exactly as if a real movie were being produced, which gives him lots of opportunities to balance the tension of the hostage crisis with lines like, “You’re worried about the ayatollah? Try the W.G.A.” (or Writers Guild of America, which is notoriously finicky about rights issues).
Hollywood, of course, loves to think of itself as both a piranha pool and as a crusading land of do-gooders saving the world, which is why this film is a perfect Oscar contender, though viewers will be left puzzled by such episodes as an elaborately staged script reading, in costume, of the Argo screenplay held to win coverage in the trade paper Variety. Later we’ll see the Iranians looking at the Variety piece as partial proof of the cover story, but this must be the first movie I’ve ever seen that contends seething Iranian revolutionaries have a clue what Variety is, or are so gullible as to believe a simple newspaper clipping couldn’t be or wouldn’t be faked by the Great Satan.
Should we hold Argo to a higher standard because it’s based on a real incident that was declassified only in the 1990s (and includes a snippet of an actual Jimmy Carter interview)? Yes, but fact-checking the movie would be another article. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief a little, Argo moves along swiftly, with Affleck proving as adept at capturing the terror and strangeness of revolutionary Tehran (where, for instance, a visitor might notice that the corpse of a traitor was left dangling over the streets as a warning) as he is at goofing on Hollywood habits. Affleck takes note of sinister little details such as how, on a flight to Tehran, flight attendants come around and collect all alcoholic drinks the moment the plane enters Iranian airspace.
But despite Affleck’s evident interest in rehabilitating Carter’s reputation (talk about a doomed mission!) and one or two annoying moments of liberal preaching, don’t mistake Argo for one of those would-be George Clooney political thrillers. Like The Town, this is at least a smart popcorn movie, and that’s fine.
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