It shouldn’t have worked: six Americans avoid being taken in the Iran hostage crisis, which started November 4, 1979. They hang out at the residence of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) for several weeks. The CIA, trying to get them out, reject the idea of pretending the six are Canadian farm aid workers. Instead, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) came up with this ridiculous idea of wanting to scout Tehran as a potential backdrop for a science fiction movie called Argo, with the six becoming part of the crew, a plan approved by his boss (Bryan Cranston) as the “best bad idea” available.
It shouldn’t have worked: the movie was based on real, known events. You might know how it turns out. And yet my wife and I are on the edge of our seats for the last third of the film, when we saw it Sunday at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany.
This is a wonderful movie, directed by Affleck. It is also, at times, rather funny, with most of the laughs generated by John Goodman, as John Chambers, a Hollywood make-up artist who’s done work for the agency before, and Alan Arkin, as film producer Lester Siegel; they set up a phoney film studio to put out a non-film, even getting a story in the entertainment periodical Variety. Yet the tension is never far away, as the Iranians are developing their own intelligence about the missing Americans.
At the beginning of the film credits, a picture of the actual passport of each “fake film crew” member is shown along side of the performer in the film, which reflected the sometimes astonishing similarities between them. Also, Kyle Chandler is almost a dead ringer of President Carter’s chief of staff Hamilton Jordan. Then we hear from the President, giving thanks to the CIA, while expressing only passing regret that the US government had to give all the credit for the rescue to the Canadians, lest the 52 hostages, who weren’t freed until January 20, 1981, the date of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, suffer the repercussions.
Interesting fact from the IMDB: “In order to make the movie feel like the 1970s, Ben Affleck shot it n regular film, cut the frames in half, and blew those images up 200% to increase their graininess.” This is done to great effect.
The hostage crisis is an event I remember all too well, watching the ABC News crisis news segment each night with Ted Koppel (shown in footage, along with ABC’s Frank Reynolds and NBC’s Tom Brokaw); that Koppel show eventually became Nightline. If you’re younger, an important history lesson, even as the film takes a couple liberties, especially near the end.
The Oscar buzz is warranted.
There’s a Kickstarter project about the story behind this story, involving Jack Kirby, Ray Bradbury and Buckminster Fuller, among others.