On the film “Argo:” Cowboys and Indians

I went out last weekend to see what I thought would be a serious film about the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran.  The film is called “Argo” and is based on a true but lesser-known story of that troubled time.

And too I hoped “Argo” would in the process provide insight to the Iran of today and the tense stand-off over nuclear weapons.  Why else come out now with a film of events 33 years old unless only to make money?   And how could that be?  Two serious and politically-astute guys were behind the film.  George Clooney was a producer and Ben Affleck the director and lead actor.   Visions of “Syriana” danced in my brain.

I stepped into the theater with limited knowledge.  I had read no reviews and had only an inkling of the plot:  The attempted rescue in Tehran of six Americans who fled the over-run U.S. Embassy and secretly holed up nearby in the Canadian Embassy during the anti-American riots.  Their lives are at risk.  Time is short.

A CIA operative, Tony Mendez, devises a goofy plan.   He will pose as Kevin Harkins, the producer of a phony sci-fi movie, “Argo,” and with help of two Hollywood friends,  incorporate the six Americans into a group seeking a filming location in Iran.  From there, the “film crew” will try to return to the U.S., passing  through intense airport security in Tehran via phony passports, visas and film “documents.”

To be sure, “Argo” is an intense and thrilling film.   It likely will do well at the box office.   But the flaws are many.

Events are too compacted and over-dramatized, the characters other than Mendez (Affleck) too wooden and false, the agent’s family issues over-played and the direction far too pandering to the CIA and American patriotism.  Not to mention the last 10 minutes of “Argo” should be laying on the cutting-room floor.

So a serious film?  In two words, no,  no.

In the sum, “Argo” is akin to an old oater, a western with heroic cowboys (Americans) v. villainous Indians (Iranians) .  Black and white, no gray.

What, pray tell, would constitute a more serious film?  I would have preferred a more balanced depiction of American and Iranian points of view.  Perhaps a larger role for the Iranian security chief as he tried to puzzle out the missing Americans and why it was so important.    Maybe he was thinking of his family as Mendez had.

The U.S. has a long dark history in international affairs.  Think Chile, Nicaragua, Iraq, Panama, Cuba or numerous other countries where American interests have changed or tried to change the course of history like in Iran.

At a moment in time when relations between Iran and the U.S. seem to grow more tense with every passing day, “Argo” is a disappointing film.   The stand-off begs for more understanding, not caricature.

Through actual film clips in the beginning, “Argo” attempts to show oil-starved America meddling in Iranian affairs with the installation of the murderous Shah Pahlavi regime of the 1950s.  But the thrust of the entire film overpowers it.  “Argo” paints Iranian  brutality in broad strokes, that the government is wild-eyed  and evil-doing with  no justification for denouncing good ol’ America.

I hope I kept my theater stub.  Maybe I can get a refund.

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