Argo Blu-ray Review

It’s funny how real life is so often stranger than fiction.

And Argo is most certainly that, as it brings the mostly true life tale of how some AWOL US citizens in Iran were rescued by the CIA through a cinematic sci-fi smokescreen they created.

The year is 1980, a time when suits were made of cheap, brightly coloured material, where drinks cans had ring pulls and when films like Star Wars and tv shows like Battlestar Gallactica ruled the pop culture airwaves.

Not in Iran though, where decades of oppression, torture, murder and favourable oil prices to the west have endured under the american installed dictator Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Having revolted in 1979 and forced said Shah to flee, a posse of newly liberated Iranians vent their frustration at america’s harbouring of their mass murdering, puppet dictator by protesting outside the American Embassy in Tehran.

Inevitably, things get out of hand and the people storm the embassy’s gates, upon which six savvy Americans decide they better fly the coop and hightail it to some more hospitable refuge.

Having narrowly escaped being taken hostage in the hostile country for Americans, how the devil do they make it out of Iran alive?

Well, you set up a fake film production studio and create enough press around this to make it seem real, then have a CIA agent swoop in to lead these good, american folk back to the promised land.

Why would you do anything else?

I remember watching Argo at last year’s London Film Festival and, whilst I enjoyed it, didn’t really share the same love so many other people had for this Ben Affleck shaped film.

I still have some issues with it, which I’ll bore you with later, but as a film that’s meant to engage and entertain, Argo couldn’t have been made any better.

The action is tense and taut throughout, the seventies-ish outfits and little prop touches are spot on, helping to create a believable slice of 1980 era america and the ensemble cast are uniformly great.

Everyone’s new favourite beardy-man Affleck does a stand up job as the stoic CIA agent Tony Mendez sent in to pull off the Moses trick in Tehran, Bryan Cranston delivers some great one liners as his agency boss and Alan Arkin steals about every scene he’s as a jaded yet still fiery and hilarious big time Hollywood producer.

Of course, I still have issues with Argo.

Firstly, the whole based on a true story thing can be very misleading and dangerous thing with film; because the truth is people are far more likely to believe Hollywood star Ben Affleck than pick up some history book.

I know I do.

So adding a fictional and dramatic climax in a Tehran airport is fine and even necessary to make the film more satisfying, lying about the roles other embassies played in helping to shelter these six americans on the lam, however, is a screenwriting indulgence too far.

Of course, this is a minor thing compared to the bullshit American triumphalism that runs throughout Argo, and now I’m going to tell you why.

As daring and inventive as Tony Mendez’s real life actions were, and they were, the fact that they were needed at all is barely addressed.

The reason the Iranian people stormed the american embassy and held these citizens hostage for a year and a half was solely because America harboured the con-artist formerly known as the shah.

Said shah was responsible for the torture and murder of thousands of his own people, a morally bankrupt dictator who had the world’s finest cuisine flown in for him from Paris by Concorde while his own people starved to death.

He also sold oil to america on the cheap.

Funnily enough, Iran wanted this despot back to stand trial for his crimes against the Iranian people, which seems like the kind of thing democratic countries like to do, but America refused.

At any point during the 460 days of these American hostages being taken, the then President Carter could have done the right thing and handed said mass murdering dictator back to his own country to face justice.

This never happened, of course, because the lives of american citizens are far less important than letting all the other US installed puppet dictators know that they’ll be protected too, should they’re oppressed people also rise up against them.

In fairness, Argo does raise the Shah’s crimes at the beginning of the film, but this is glossed over far too quickly while the question of why America didn’t hand the mass murdering Shah back to his own country is never even raised.

That’s my problem with Argo, it perpetuates more american propaganda when in fact they’re the villains in this slice of history, not the heroes.

But why should hollywood let something like the truth get in the way of making a quick buck?

After all, that’s the true american dream.

There’s plenty of interesting blu-ray features to be had here, most notably interviews with some of the original hostages, as well as an extended version of the film itself.

And as a movie, Argo is a worthy winner of that best film Oscar Affleck so lovingly clung to last month.

That’s the truth, even if his one eyed version of history ain’t.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

March 2013