I was in the army and stationed in Hawaii when the crisis occurred. My family and I had arrived on Oahu in August 1979. Three months later, our already volatile relationship with Iran came to a head when native militants stormed our American embassy in Tehran,creating an even more explosive situation by taking 52 U.S. citizens hostage. A situation which would become major news for well over a year, it would effectively shut down any chance of President Jimmy Carter getting re-elected. Guess they were a trifle unhappy about us giving asylum to the Iranian Shah.
For those who may have never heard or read about it, have merely studied it in history class, or (like yours truly) remember the state of affairs, but have forgotten the details surrounding it, actor/director Ben Affleck opens his film Argo with a complete, faithful recap of the events leading up to that rebel take over. It is by far, one of the most accurate depictions of what happened in that region over thirty years ago that you’ll ever see. The end credits aptly confirm this.
It took nearly 20 years before this relatively unknown story was finally declassified by former President Bill Clinton in 1997 , chronicling the escape of six embassy workers (3 men and 3 women) during the raid and the utterly audacious plan cooked up by a CIA operative to get them out of Iran before they were tracked down.
As our escapees, including a pair of couples, holds up at the Canadian ambassador’s house, our State Department is coming up with some of the wildest plans to bring them home; from bikes and maps to Turkey to seasonal cover stories. Tech operations specialist Tony Mendez (a very medium bearded Ben Affleck) has been called in to advise. And he firmly advises that none of these ideas have any chance of working. Although it’s apparently no laughing matter, you can’t help but to chuckle at some of the ideas these men throw around. I mean this sextet of foreign service workers could lose their lives at any given moment. Then, Mr.Mendez has an epiphany.
While watching “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”, he comes up with what Bryan Cranston’s Jack O’ Donnell refers to as “the best bad idea.” Our six fellow Americans will pose as a Canadian film crew from the glitzy world of Hollywood to scout locations for a sci-fi fantasy movie entitled, Argo. All Mendez must do is collect them, get them to the airport and fly them out. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So simple, it might actually work.
To accomplish this charade, Mendez enlists the help of prosthetics artist, John Chambers (John Goodman), a good friend who in turn hooks him up with Alan Arkin’s weather worn ,Tinsel Town veteran producer, Lester Siegel. Together, they navigate through the usual maze of movie production mania to get this fake “movie” off the ground, plus make Mendez look like a proveribal Hollywood big shot.
Palpable tensions mount exponentially in a race against time, keeping you from taking any kind of restroom break, much of the credit going to Chris Terrio’s snappy dialogue and Rodrigo Prieta’s impactfull and, where appropriate, newsreel like cinematography. Your adrenaline flows. Your blood pressure may rise. You may even start biting your nails, praying for these people to make it out alive.
Of course it’s not all nerve wracking. Goodman and Arkin provide the requisite humor needed to salve some of the stress, Arkin especially, when he delivers a dead on, rightly hilarious response to Mendez’s proposed scheme. It’s so funny and actually makes sense. Goodman also gets in a few good quips when initially meeting with Mendez and while working on a sci-fi B- movie.
True stories can be as compelling as they are intriguing, and Argo was unfortunately way overdue. Affleck incorporated both of these qualities and above all, the dangers and extreme risks these brave souls had to endure. Now, thankfully, Argo is a victor’s tale all Americans can celebrate.