Argo

Argo is a very fine film which retells how six US diplomats were helped to escape from Iran during the Iranian revolution of 1979/1980.  This is a true story based on the memoirs of Tony Mendez, the CIA expert at the heart of the rescue.  The setting for most of the film is Teheran, shortly after the Iranians had overthrown the hated Shah and his regime.  The Shah had of course been strongly supported by the Americans which gave the revolutionaries plenty of reasons to dislike and distrust the US government.  This distrust was compounded when the US government offered the Shah a safe haven after his overthrow.   The US Embassy was surrounded by angry revolutionaries and eventually occupied, and the staff taken as hostages.  However a group of six Embassy staff escaped from the building and were given a hiding place in the cellar of the Canadian Embassy, unknown to the Iranians.

Back in the USA at CIA headquarters, the Americans set out plotting how to get these six diplomats safely out of Iran.  If they were found by the Iranians they would almost certainly be accused of spying and probably executed.  Various ideas are debated and in steps Tony Mendez with his fantastic proposal.  Set up a fake film company which is planning to make a sci-fi film and pretend that the Americans in hiding are really Canadians on a scouting mission to search out possible locations for the film.  This seemingly foolhardy idea gets the go ahead and the rest of the film is about elaborate preparations for this cover and then how the plan works out in Teheran when Tony Mendez, also disguised as a film producer, flies into Iran to make contact with the six diplomats.

The scenes in Hollywood where Tony tries to put together a fake production company and sell it to the media and the world as a bona fide film, provides some hilarious light relief.  Alan Arkan and John Goodman are brilliant as the wise cracking, cynical movie executives who somehow make the impossible sound real.  The bulk of the film however is an edge of your seat ride as you feel every threat that is posed to the diplomats, constantly at risk of discovery by the Iranians.  It all builds up to great climatic scene as the moment of truth arrives – will they get out or not?

The film was directed by Ben Affleck who also turns in a magnificent performance as Tony Mendez.  No histrionics, just a thoughtful, understated performance.  Affleck also brings out great ensemble acting from the rest of the cast, especially the six diplomats and the Canadian Ambassador as they struggle to maintain hope while stuck in a kind of prison.  Very good film.

While the film inevitably portrays the Iranians as bloodthirsty anti Americans, this is not a history of Iran, but an account of one episode, during which some Americans were at risk.  The film tries a little to overcome this hostile portrayal of the Iranians by offering at the beginning of the film a short animated account of how the USA along with the help of the UK overthrown the previous democratic government of Iran way back in the 1950s, and put the Shah in dictatorial power in Iran.  The Americans have a justifiable history of interfering in Iran and it is no wonder that some Iranians take any opportunity to extract a little payback from time to time.

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