Greenacres resident Deborah Skolnik attended the press screening of Argo. Here’s her review. It’s 1979, and our country is struggling through an energy crisis and some of the worst hairstyles in history. It’s even tougher being an American abroad. Especially in Iran, where — as we learn in Argo’s mercifully brief history-lesson intro — the population is newly radicalized under the Ayatollah Khomeini, and spitting mad at the U.S. for harboring their deposed Shah.
Those of our countrymen unlucky enough to still be there are feeling the wrath, big-time. Argo’s opening sequence features alternating shots of angry Iranians pressing against our embassy’s gates, and the trapped workers inside, squirming and sweating bullets as they wait for help that will never come. It’s impossible to watch without your own blood pressure rising.
We all know the rest: The gates got breached and 52 hostages were held for 444 days. But maybe you didn’t realize (nor did I) that six other Americans quietly escaped onto the street, then hid in the Canadian embassy. There, the Houseguests, as they were called, spent weeks lying low, terrified they’d get ferreted out and beheaded in some bleak town square.
All that stands between them and that fate is the CIA’s top evac man, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and a bunch of bad ideas. The best of the harebrained schemes? For Mendez to pose as a Canadian filmmaker, fly to Iran, and escort the Houseguests out by telling everyone they’re his crew. He sets about giving the project street cred by buying the rights to a piece of sci-fi dreck called—good guess!—Argo, and recruiting a pair of wisecracking Hollywood movie guys to back it (John Goodman and also Alan Arkin, who deserves a Best Supporting Actor nod). One exquisite scene unfolds when Arkin’s haggling skills land him Argo’s script for $5,000 less than he’d even offered. It’s funny, but it isn’t: Ultimately, everyone’s in for a lot more than they bargained for.
Don’t worry, you won’t spent the next two hours watching people in tin-foil costumes saying things like “I am Zoblorg from planet Gleeb!”. Argo never gets shot (though one unfortunate person does). The film really just focuses on the prep work for the evac mission, and the two tense days Mendez spends in Iran, trying to earn the trust of local officials and, less easily, the nervous folks he’s trying to save.
The Houseguests themselves may be the movie’s weak point. We don’t know much about them—and certainly it’s hard to look behind their dated LensCrafters glasses and Farrah bangs for a deeper glimpse into their true natures. Kept at arm’s length from us, emotionally, they’re tough to root for on a personal level. Yet that may be the point: Mendez didn’t know them either. The movie isn’t really about the evacuees, anyway—it’s about who Mendez is, and who he decides to be when he finds himself in the crosshairs of his mandates and his morality.
This is more than a suspense movie; suspense is when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Here you do, but you’ll still find yourself holding your breath as Mendez and the Houseguests navigate angry mobs and skeptical airport officials. And when that blessed Swissair flight lifts off, it’s an elevating moment for the audience too—everyone around me burst into applause and whoops of glee. Yep, it’s more than a suspense movie. It’s a thriller.
Deborah Skolnik is a senior editor at Parenting magazine and lives in Greenacres with her husband and two daughters.