The emotionally charged, impeccably acted, and tension filled “Argo,” directed by and starring Ben Affleck, (The Town) and written for the screen by Chris Terrio, (Heights) premiered on August 31, 2012 at the Telluride Film Festival, which is held every Labor Day weekend in Telluride, Colorado. The one hundred and twenty minute film is based on two sources of information: The first is a selection from the book “The Master of Disguise” by retired CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) agent, Tony Mendez; the other, an April 24, 2007 Wired Magazine article, “The Great Escape” written by Joshuah Bearman. Made for an estimated budget of forty-four and half million dollars, the film, which is a mix of drama, history, and thriller, went on to gross a little over one hundred and thirty-six million, and won the coveted Best Picture Oscar at the 85th annual Academy Awards.
The year is 1979; the Shah of Iran has been ousted after the Iranian government has been overthrown by Islamic revolutionaries, paving the way for the return of the exiled, Ayatollah Khomeini to take over the leadership of the country. Angered that the Shah was given refuge in the United States, the American embassy in Tehran, Iran is attacked and taken over by the revolutionaries. Initially, thanks to the luck of their location in the building, as compared to fifty-two of their co-workers who would be held hostage a total of four hundred and forty-four days, six Americans avoid being taken hostage and escape. The six portrayed by Tate Donovan as Bob Anders, Clea DuVall as Cora Lijek, Christopher Denham as Mark Lijek, Rory Cochrane as Lee Schatz, Scoot McNairy as Joe Stafford, and Kerry Bishe as Kathy Stafford, respectively, make their way to the home of the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). There they will stay, until a daring plan is devised by exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez, a role acted by Ben Affleck in a realistic and restrained manner.
Various ideas are put forth as to how to get the six Americans out of Iran, such as having them pose as foreign teachers or agricultural specialists, but each idea is met with reasons why the plan would either be impractical or unrealistic given the current political climate in the country. With the support of his superior, Jack O’ Donnell, (Bryan Cranston) Mendez comes up with what is dubbed “the best, bad idea,” which is to create a fake Canadian film company that is scouting locations in the Middle East for a science fiction movie called “Argo.” But, Mendez knows that he can’t just depend on being taken at his word by the new regime in Iran. He needs to make everything look authentic. Reaching out to his friend, John Chambers, (John Goodman) a makeup artist who won an honorary Oscar for his work on the first “Planet of the Apes” film, he goes to California to discuss the idea. As an aside, Goodman’s role as Chambers made cinematic history, becoming the first time that a real life Oscar winner was portrayed in a film that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Chambers and Mendez get the ball rolling by eliciting the help of producer, Lester Siegel, (Alan Arkin) who insists that if he is going to make a fake movie, it is going to be a fake hit. Arkin and Goodman’s characters serve as comic relief throughout the film. A script is secured, articles are written in magazines, including industry publications such as “Variety,” movie posters are made, story boards are created, and a table read with the entire cast is held. The six Americans will receive new identities, complete with Canadian passports. They will have only a very short time to memorize not only the stories of how they were born and raised in Canada, but they will also have to memorize what their respective jobs are on the movie crew, as well as the details of those jobs. Easier said than done, and Mendez knows that if caught it will be certain death not only for him, but the people he is trying to save.
The actions of Mendez, and the outcome of his bold plan, during the Iran Hostage Crisis were kept under wraps until 1997, until the 42nd President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, declassified the operation for public knowledge. Did Mendez succeed in rescuing the six Americans? What obstacles does he face that either lead to his success or keep him from completing his mission? Does the Canadian ambassador, who so graciously hid the six people, at great personal peril to both himself and his wife, get caught and have to pay the ultimate price? What happened to the other fifty-two hostages that were being held captive? Most people are familiar with the true story and already know the answers to those questions. If, however, you aren’t, and you have not seen the movie yet, do yourself a favor and don’t read anything about the real life mission prior to seeing the film. For me, “Argo,’ which I have seen twice, was well worth the time I invested in viewing it. It was more than deserving of the Academy Award nominations it garnered, as well as the Oscars, that it won, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.