Sunday, November 11, 2012


Writes Roger Ebert: It's the same the world over. A Hollywood production comes to town, and the locals all turn movie crazy. When a little picture named "Prancer" came to Three Oaks, Mich., I was sitting in the bar and overheard one bearded regular confide in his friend, "See that guy? He's assistant makeup."

As in Michigan, so in Iran. At the height of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, with yellow ribbons tied around half the old oak trees in America, a CIA agent and a couple of Hollywood professionals dreamed up a cockamamie scheme to free six Americans who had found refuge in the Canadian embassy. Their existence had to remain a secret to protect Canada's diplomatic status.

Enter the CIA "extractor" Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a producer named Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and a makeup man named John Chambers (John Goodman). Chambers has a brainstorm: He and Siegel would fabricate a fake sci-fi thriller named "Argo." They would commission a screenplay, pay for storyboards, and buy a big ad in Variety. Mendez would fly alone into Tehran and train the six Americans to impersonate Hollywood pros — the cinematographer and so on.

Their cover: They need desert locations for their movie, which would vaguely resemble "Star Wars." They would tell the Iranians the six people were Canadians who were scouting locations and now need to fly back to North America. One of the most enchanting scenes has Mendez showing the sci-fi storyboards to Iranian authorities, who try their best to conceal what movie buffs they are. At the end of the scene, when Mendez tells them "you can keep em," they're like kids being given an "E.T." poster by Steven Spielberg.
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