It's common knowledge about the terrifying takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979 in which 52 of the Embassy staff were held hostage for 444 days. What most people do not know is that six Embassy staff members managed to escape through the back door while the Embassy was being stormed. They sought refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. If these six were to be discovered, they would surely be taken hostage by the Iranians and possibly killed.
What happened to these six escapees is the focus of the film Argo, which is based on declassified documents from the actual rescue operation. The episode was classified in 1980 but was declassified during the Clinton Administration, which is when the amazing story of American cunning combined with Canadian cooperation came to the public's attention.
Ben Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who specialized in "exfiltration" referred to as "exfil." While the CIA comprises several scenarios in which to extract the Americans without their being discovered, Tony comes up with a far-fetched plan. All of the proposed plans are risky and frankly many are crazy, but Tony's is "the best bad idea" they have.
The idea is to create false Canadian identities for the six Americans and have them pose as filmmakers. That's not so crazy, but what happens next is what makes this an amazing plot. Tony will go into Iran as a co-producer of a film and they will be his film crew. Then after a day or two, they will all fly out together. Still sound interesting? Wait, there's more.
In order to fool the Iranians, the film has to be plausible. So Tony enlists the aid of John Chambers (John Goodman), a Hollywood makeup artist who has helped the CIA in the past. Chambers says they need more hard-core Hollywood backing to be believable, so they enlist the additional help of Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a Hollywood heavyweight. But Siegel says to assure their cover the movie must be real. To do this they need to buy a script (Argo), set up real actors, and engage the press. They do all of that and soon Tony has his plan in play.
While in Iran, the "film crew" begins their location scouting for the Sci-fi flick set in the Middle East. Their cover is holding, but for how long?
This story is spellbinding and an amazing tale based on a real event. Although it is tense, Goodman and Arkin add the much-needed comic relief, which makes this as entertaining as it is. Without these two, the story would still be stimulating, but they manage to slip in laugh-out-loud comments whenever they are on screen. Their humor adds much to the enrichment of the story and the characters. Granted, the real filmmakers took some dramatic license with this story. This movie is engaging and will keep your attention from the first scene to the last.
An interesting side note to this story is the fact that a friend of mine was writing for the Hollywood Reporter in 1980 and actually wrote a story about the "fake" film, which he and the rest of the press corps did not know was fake. The title of his article, "Two makeup artists turn to producing with sci-fi 'Argo'" was published January 25, 1980. That should tell you just how realistic and intense the CIA project was. The lives of six Americans were at stake and no one was taking any chances. To the outside world, in 1980 Argo was a sci-fi movie that was actually in pre-production. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I highly recommend this movie. It is engrossing and inspiring. The cooperation between the United States and Canada during this intense period was the only thing keeping the six Americans alive, and without the help of the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), the six would not have survived.
Is the film upsetting? Yes it is. How can you not watch something this horrifying as storming an Embassy, taking hostages, torturing and killing people without being upset? Is this film inspiring? Yes it is. The bravery of those involved address how much American's value life. Going to this extreme to save six American lives is courageous.
I remember that fateful time in our history. It was unsettling, to say the least. But knowing that this event took place is inspiring. Argo is worth seeing.
Argo is rated R for language and some violent images. Leave the kiddies at home but go see the movie. It opens nationwide Friday, October 12, 2012.