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“Argo” is based on a true story. In 1979, during the the Iranian Revolution, a group of Iranian revolutionaries stormed the the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Most of the embassy employees were taken as hostages, but six managed to escape. Those six found their way to the residence of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor. While the six stayed inside, often diving down into a crawlspace when the doorbell rang, the Iranians had children piecing together shredded documents in warehouses. Documents that included photos of these six escapees. You realize, as you sit in the darkened theater, that it was only a matter of time before the Iranians realized they were six short, and had the photos to confirm their fears.
The CIA, in conjunction with the State Department, begins looking at ways to get the six employees out. There is a bicycle plan-have the six ride bicycles 300 miles to the Turkish border. Unfortunately, it’s winter in Iran and that idea is not feasible. What about disguising them as Canadian teachers?
At this point, Tony Mendez speaks up. Mendez was the CIA operative ultimately responsible for getting the six employees out, and his idea is the best of worst. Disguise them as a Canadian film crew, scouting locations for a science fiction movie. Mendez gets the idea while watching a “Planet of the Apes” movie during a telephone chat with his young son. He convinces his boss, Jack O’Donnell, that this is the best of the bad plans, and they bring it to the powers that be.
Mendez and O’Donnell contact Oscar-winning makeup artist, John Chambers. Mendez flies out to Hollywood and begins the laborious process of publicizing a fake movie. They find producer Lester Siegel, rent office space, create story boards, a poster and host a read through, all for a fake movie entitled “Argo.” After the read through, a member of the press badgers Lester Siegel about the meaning of the title, and, after trying to get away from the reporter, Siegel finally answers “Argo fuck yourself.” That phrase becomes a salutation between Mendez, Chambers and Siegel.
Variety runs the story, the project is given the legitimacy it needs to convince the Iranian government, and Tony Mendez embarks on the next step of the plan: convincing six terrified Americans. He flies to Iran and meets with officials, who are obviously reluctant to accept a film crew from anywhere would choose the moment of the Iranian Revolution to scout for locations.
Ambassador Taylor is made aware of the “Argo” plan, and welcomes Tony Mendez into his home. The first meeting between the six Americans and Mendez is extraordinary. They look at him as if he is insane. He wants them to memorize resumes, change their appearances, albeit subtly, to match the fake passports he has for them and become other people.
There are some problems with “Argo,” specifically with the narration at the beginning of the film. Two things rang strange to me, and I had to research them to be certain I was not wrong. The female narrator states that Mohammed Mossadegh was overwhelmingly elected as Prime Minister. That is, in fact false. He was appointed by the Shah and confirmed by the Iranian Parliament. Understand, what happened to Mossadegh was obscene, but it is important to understand how he actually came to power. The second thing I noticed was how the narrator referred to Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as simply Reza Pahlavi. I remember the Iranian Revolution, and I remember the Shah. My mother, oddly enough, used to get her hair done by one of the Shah’s close relatives. He was always referred to as Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, as Reza Pahlavi was his father.
Ben Affleck does a marvelous job both in his portrayal of Tony Mendez and as director of “Argo.” There are moments when I forgot to breathe, and towards the end, both my husband and I had tears in our eyes. Bryan Cranston is perfect as Jack O’Donnell, and hats off to the casting director for putting John Goodman and Alan Arkin in roles that matched them perfectly: Goodman portrays John Chambers while Arkin is Lester Siegel.
I highly recommend “Argo.” The acting is brilliant, the direction, superb, and while “Argo” does take some creative license with the actual events of 1979, all in all, Ben Affleck directed a great movie with an equally great cast. “Argo” is distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures, directed by Ben Affleck and produced by Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney. “Argo” is rated R for strong language and some violence.