Argo: This Is The Best Bad Idea We Have

Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck in Argo. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Argo tells an incredibly true story of how the CIA used a fake science-fiction film to rescue six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis.

“This is the best bad idea we have, sir,” Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) tells C.I.A Director Stansfield Turner (Phillip Baker Hall). “By far.”

The best bad idea not only saves six American lives but manages to win an Oscar.  A few of them, actually.  The fact that the CIA turns to a Hollywood makeup artist is an incredible story in its own right.

Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is an infiltration specialist and is brought on to consult on the available options to rescue the six Americans at home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).  They are the only six to escape from the American embassy.  Anyway, Tony draws inspiration upon watching Battle of the Planet of the Apes.  This brings makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) into the plans.  Together with Chambers and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), they set up a phony production company.  Even though it’s a fake film, they do everything as if it were a real film including having reporters on hand to watch a table read.

In addition to the aforementioned “bad idea” quote, there’s a few memorable quotes in the film.  A few come from Lester Siegel: “Argo fuck yourself.”  Another one from Lester:  “If I’m doing a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit.”

It’s been some time since I’ve read Tony Mendez’s memoir of the operation.  The film does stray away from the truth in some aspects.  I get that some of this is for dramatic purposes.  Canada is not given much credit as they deserve.  They deserve our thanks for the role they played.  All this criticism is valid.  At the same time, the technical achievements are amazing.  Both Alan Arkin and John Goodman turn in brilliant performances.  William Goldenberg’s editing is top-notch.

This is a film that goes all out for getting the designs correct.  When you watch the credits and Blu-ray’s bonus features, it drives this point home.  Aside from some dramatic differences, the film mostly gets it right.

If you’ve been on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, you can recognize some of the exterior sets.  One in particular is the courthouse steps where Tony and Lester are sitting in the above photograph.  Meanwhile, the famous water tower depicts “The Burbank Studios” of the era.  It’s really hard to miss the LA sites that are visible in the film.  One hotel in particular happens to play home to the table read.

The film brought Warner Brothers another Best Picture win.  Meanwhile, Chris Terrio took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and William Goldenberg won Best Editing.  There were four other nominations for Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Best Original Score.

While Argo does have it’s flaws, the film strives for overall authenticity.

DIRECTOR:  Ben Affleck
CAST:  Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman

Warner Bros. opened Argo on October 12, 2012. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.