Any Canadian my age or older will have no problem recalling the moment in history when the ambassador to Iran from the icy land “up North” was heralded a hero after assisting a half-dozen U.S. citizens escape from the tumultuous country. Now, this story that is apparently obscure in America, is brought back to light in the release of Argo.
Ben Affleck throws a double-punch in this production, acting as both director and playing real life CIA agent Tony Mendez, the man who came up with a crazy rescue idea that involved a fake film script as an excuse to go to Iran to scout shooting locations. With the help of a Hollywood makeup man (John Goodman) and an aging movie producer (Alan Arkin), Mendez manages to create a fictitious front for a sci-fi film that’s so believable it includes an office and advertisements in trade magazines. Next he convinces the Canadian government to supply six passports for his “crew”—the six trapped U.S. Embassy workers that managed to evade capture when the Iranian building was overrun and found refuge in the home of Ken Taylor (played by Victor Garber, an authentic Canuck), the Canadian ambassador to Iran.
While the movie’s promotions herald Argo as based on information that was not declassified until years after the event, this screenplay takes liberal opportunity to embellish the tension and action—right down to a runway chase at the airport. (The actual departure of the hostages at the airport happened without incident.) But, just as the plot spinners in this true story illustrate, Hollywood has never let reality stand in the way of a good movie and if you’re shopping for thrills and nail-biting moments, Argo delivers.
Sadly language is the reason for this production’s R-rating in the U.S. with needless sexual expletives and other profanities peppering the dialogue. We also see a body hanging from a construction crane in the streets of Tehran, some still images of torture in the movie’s opening moments and a firing squad where prisoners are subjected to the psychological torment of believing they will be executed. As well, expect a great deal of cigarette smoking and drinking in this film set in 1980.
However, aside from these elements, Argo reminds us of a time when two national friends worked together. With their efforts, plus a little bit of show business ingenuity, a dangerous situation was navigated and ultimately lives were saved.