The Well-Entertained Moviegoer
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"Argo" comes to the screen as another feel-good-about-America film
that demonstrates how much smarter our good-ole-white-boys are in comparison to the so-called crazy idiots who populate the rest of the world.
Our male-dominated culture loves nothing more than a story of a fearless can-do loner who defies authority, slipping behind enemy lines to bring off a clandestine operation.
Since "Argo" is supposedly rooted in a real venture, an opening voice-over attempts to set the scene for American audiences. But very short shrift indeed is given to the real back-story of our relationship with Iran. Yup, we did take down the prime minister of a democratic country, Mohammed Mossadegh, and put a dictator, the Shah of Iran, back in business. The SAVAK, his version of the CIA, is mentioned. But not a word of the thousands of Iranians who were tortured by SAVAK agents, using techniques learned at the School for the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Oh, wait, torture -- wasn't that subject left to another feel-good-about-ourselves movie that is supposed to show how we got Osama bin Laden?
Conveniently overlooked are the violations of international law as well as our constitution that are integral to both these operations.
"Argo" hits all the right buttons. Affleck as the hard-nosed hero with nerves of steel. The two Hollywood insiders, played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, who engage in smart-assed repartee. The backbiting between the FBI and the CIA. The shredding of everything in sight. What could be in all those documents? Where are the Wikileaks folks when we need them?
The people of Iran are shown as a scary, belligerent, frightening mob that are the only entity in "Argo" that indulges in wanton acts of cruelty such as hanging someone from the end of a crane. In other scenes, Iranians are shown as bureaucratic bumblers who can't seem to figure things out.
Two incidents seem to have been scripted just for this movie. As the faux film-makers thread their way through a crowded market, one of them holds up her cell phone to take a picture of a middle-aged Iranian male. This sets off a brou-ha-ha, resulting in a hair-raising jostling and shoving scene. Most Americans who go abroad know that it is common courtesy to ask permission before snapping pictures of people. A real Embassy staffer would have known of this no-no, but apparently the scriptwriters didn't.
The second involves the decision by the filmmakers to depart from the original incident by bringing those rescued and the rescuer to a press conference in order to brag about the successful effort without regard to the danger that this move would have for the 52 hostages still being held in Iran. Good theater, but in real life a screw-up.
Keep in mind that this film is about Iran -- a country we have in our sights right now as our next victim. Given the close relationship between Hollywood and Washington that has been re-forged in the last couple of decades, is it a coincidence that this film came to our neighborhood theaters at this particular time? Hollywood seems to be pressing its case that never again will a congressional committee feel the need to investigate the industry for un-American activities.
Like more and more celebs, Ben Affleck is not a stranger to our political scene. But few are considered candidates for this or that office. Just weeks ago, Affleck had to say he would not seek Secretary of State John Kerry's Senate seat. And how about the First Lady announcing that ARGO was the winner of the best picture?
It rings all the jingoistic bells that are not present in your run-of-the-mill thrillers. But in this film they serve to motivate viewers to rise from their seats at the end to give a round of applause.
The visuals that we will retain from "Argo" are not the embassy staffers or the hero, but the "enemy" -- those hostile crowds marching through the streets. The fact that they were demanding that we return the Shah so that he can stand trial for his crimes and that they are justifiably angry that the US Embassy supported him for nearly three decades doesn't seem to compute. It's the image of them that remains and will help set a favorability rating for the war plans of Netanyahu and Obama.
How long after these awards have been handed out will Israeli planes be dropping on Iran the extra- big bunker-busting bombs that we sold them last spring along with the mid-air-refueling mechanism that allows their planes to make round trips to Teheran? Hollywood can congratulate itself that it played a small part in the war effort.