Sunday, October 28, 2012

Made in America

Four Stars

The story to “Agro” sounds like a farce or a political satire. It would be if it wasn’t true. However, “Argo” isn’t a farce. It’s not even a comedy. It takes its story very seriously. The story opens on Iran having a new leader installed by the United States, The Shah. This makes the citizens of Iran very angry, and they rebel, wanting their traditional way of life back. The movie opens on them getting through the gates and raiding an American Embassy. Most of the staff is taken as hostages, but some get out and are taken to the Canadian embassy, where they are stuck. If they leave the embassy, good chance the people of Iran would kill them. Meanwhile, back in the United States, the CIA is scrambling to find a way to get them out. Here’s the part of the story that sounds a bit unbelievable. Tony Mandez (Ben Afflect), who works for the CIA, is on the phone with his kid. He hasn’t seen his kid in awhile, as he is doing work for the CIA, and lives in an apartment in Washington D.C. I guess it’s a tough job, and being away from his family isn’t easy on him, but for guys like him, work comes first. His kid mentions that he’s watching the classic B- movie squeal to “Planet of the Apes”, “The Battle of the Planet of The Apes.” Tony turns it on his television set, and comes up with an idea. Here’s the part that sounds like it could be a comedy, but isn’t.
His idea is he’ll get Hollywood involved in getting out these hostages. They will pretend the hostages are a Hollywood crew, working on a ridiculous knock off of “Star Wars”, during the height of its popularity.  He pitches it to the CIA, who first look at him like he is nuts. Then they think about it, and approve of it. Jack (Bryan Cranston, turning in a very good dramatic performance here), becomes the go to guy for Tony to communicate with. He contacts his old friend, John Chambers (John Goodman), who has done work for them before, providing makeup to spies and such. He flies out to Hollywood, and has a lunch with Chambers, who is doing make up for B-pictures. John introduces him to Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), who is an old time Hollywood producer. He informs him science fiction is hot in Hollywood right now (which made me think of how fantasy is the rage now). So, together, they go through scripts and find a screenplay called “Argo” that describes the science fiction environment as a Middle East like one. They have their script.

The idea sounds silly, but the movie takes it very seriously. The movie becomes this weird mix of a behind the scenes Hollywood movie, with the makeup artist and old time producer, using their magic to pull it off. They even hold a press conference about the fake movie. What I found interesting about this whole scheme between Hollywood and the United States government, about getting these hostages out, is the weird crossroads pop culture and real life sometimes take. Sometimes, they combine or work together to get something done.

Ben Afflect, as a director and star is very good in his role, as do John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston. I definitely see this movie as a shoe-in to some Oscar nominations. The movie wisely mostly focuses on the very real and serious situation these hostages are in. The movie sometimes diverts to the people back in Hollywood, to lighten the mood a little.  They can’t seem to believe, at first, that Tony is handing them scripts to a science fiction movie and identities that are related to this. I don’t blame them. Sometimes when someone makes a pop culture reference in a serious situation, I’ll give them a look. Not the right time, but in this film, that pop culture reference can save lives.

I often say movies are one of the few good things our country still produces. It’s always baffling to me when Americans bash Hollywood. It’s one of the few things that our country still makes well, and the world seems to accept about America. Who in their right mind would believe that Hollywood is going to Iran in the middle of a hostage crisis to make a silly science fiction picture? A lot of people, it seems. Though they do bump into hostile people, it seems that a lot of people in this hostile place of Iran are willing to buy, yeah, they are making a movie. So, let them proceed. Its very nerve raking, at times, watching this film, because I kept thinking someone, anyone, has to give them one weird look to notice that this farce they are pulling off sounds a bit off. A science fiction movie does not need to be shot in Iran. It can be shot anywhere. It’s a total crazy scheme, but once you are watching these people using it as a way of escape, it doesn’t seem that crazy anymore. Hooray for Hollywood. This movie documents a true event that was important to American history, and one of the most unbelieveable ones. "Argo" is one of the year's best pictures.