I was very lucky indeed to get a couple of preview tickets for Argo, because it turned out to be an excellent thriller which lives up to the trailer’s promise to shred to your nerves. Flamboyant covers are not, we’re assured, the CIA’s usual thing but on this occasion they went with what on the face of it was a very silly idea. They funded the start-up of a film, including script development, appointment of a reputable director and pre-publicity in order to convince revolutionary Iran that some Americans who had escaped the siege of their embassy were actually Canadian film location scouts.
Argo opens with an honest potted history of pre-revolutionary Iran that explains how Britain and America overthrew the country’s only democratically elected government after it nationalised their oil interests. Nationalisation had been popular with Iranians. Democracy was replaced with corrupt dictatorship, which was not at all popular and which brutalised the populace with its crimes against humanity. America had further wound up the Iranian people by granting exile to the Shah and so ensuring he would never answer for his crimes.
But lecture quickly over, we soon revert to heroic Americans bravely and ingeniously taking on quite bonkers Iranian revolutionaries. It’s very easy to identify with the trapped Americans and to understand that their discovery would almost certainly have led to a most brutal and degrading execution. (It’s hard to believe they kept their cool as, posing as Canadians film makers, they were shown around a Tehran market by someone from the culture ministry.)
In the end Argo is primarily a very enjoyable thriller-cum-action movie. The ending — a moment of extreme schmaltz — contrasts with sharply that opening, but we can forgive them that. Recommended.