Opening 8 Nov 2012
Information from recent declassified U.S. government documents from the Iran Hostage crisis in 1979 is what actor and filmmaker Ben Affleck loosely uses for his latest feature film Argo. It is an article written for the magazine WIRED on April 24, 2007, at 2:00 a.m. by Joshuah Bearman, “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran,” which Affleck chooses for his premise for the narrative. Bearman’s article is a must read, but I suggest only after you go see Affleck’s film. First, let the film take you on a journey with the six U.S. Foreign Service personnel staffers from the U.S. embassy in Tehran when their lives are at stake at the outbreak of the historical 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. They were the only ones not held captive under gunpoint in the U.S. Embassy. The horrific dilemma lasted 444 days.
Argo takes place at the very beginning of the controversy. After you have finished your adventure with the Affleck’s Argo film cast and crew, then compare the facts from Bearman’s article to Affleck’s Hollywood embellishments. You will not be disappointed with the Affleck-Bearman collaboration to share the story’s compelling timeline of events, the incredible accomplishments from Mendez and the instrumental role the Canadian Government played to strategize and execute a miraculous rescue.
The film would not allow a full and accurately detailed account with all parties involved in the crisis from CIA operative to the Canadian governments involvement using the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor nor the Canadian Embassy employee, John Sheardown, because some of the information is still labelled classified. But, the account is chronicled in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) annals of U.S. History and one day the whole truth may be told and more of the plight revealed.*
Central Intelligence Agent (CIA) Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is called into the CIA bureau’s think-tank, as a consultant to help configure a way to get six U.S. diplomats out of harm’s way at the beginning of the 1979 U.S.-Iran Hostage crisis.
In the fall of 1979, the United States Embassy in Tehran encountered daily protest rallies in front of the consulate grounds demanding that the U.S. government hand over Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, so that his own people could put him to trial for the atrocities made on the Iranian people. The Shah followed his father to the Iranian throne in 1941.
His greatest opposition was the popular religious nationalist, Ayatollah Rubollah Khomeini, who condemned the relationship with the United States. Eight U.S. presidents supported the Shah in various Iranian political battles in exchange for a continued supply of oil. In the ‘60s the Shah tried to make social and economic reforms but was not compliant to political freedoms his people deemed it necessary to make the reforms work. In January of 1979, the Shah’s regime fell to a revolution, forcing him to flee the country. The Ayatollah stepped in and successfully stirred up the anti-Americanism. In October, the Shah came to America for cancer treatments and a month later the militant order was given to attack the American Embassy in protest. The insurgents felt like the U.S. was harboring a fugitive and resented the American diplomacy. The mounting tension finally broke when the U.S. Embassy was violently taken over by a group of young Iranian revolutionaries. There were fifty-two embassy staffers working in the building that day and all except six were taken hostage. The rebels needed the hostages to make a deal.
Six embassy diplomats escaped during the chaos. It’s now Mendez’s job to rescue these people who are given refuge in the residence of Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), the Canadian ambassador. Mendez knows that such an attempt is incredibly dangerous with little room for error to get all six diplomats, as well as himself, out alive.
Mendez is seriously thinking suicide mission until he has a brainy idea while watching a sci-fi TV show with his twelve-year-old son. Mendez proposes an idea to his supervisor, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), to make the six diplomats pose as Canadian film scouts looking for an exotic location to film a new science fiction fantasy. Mendez would pose as the film’s director while literally leading the six in and out of danger. The scheme needed expertise in the film world, thus calling upon the CIA connections in Hollywood to put the details together to make the fake film look and feel legitimate – famous actors, producers, posters, interviews, reviews, articles in the film magazines like the Hollywood Reporter, etc. Under great duress, O’Donnell and Mendez receive authorization to proceed with the mission and within hours the mechanics for their fake film is underway. The infamous Hollywood make-up artist, John Chambers (John Goodman), and film producer, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), immediately join the CIA escapade to live a lie to save six lives. They make the caper just as much fun as Mendez makes it dangerous. And, the rest is history!
*According to an article written by Don Kaye, “How Argo’s fake movie studio even fooled Steven Spielberg”, Kaye writes, “The ruse (the fake film studio ironically called Studio Six) worked so well that it even fooled other filmmakers and screenwriters”. Mendez says in his notes on the mission, "...that by the time the offices of the production company, called Studio Six, were closed, some twenty-six scripts came through the door – including one sent by Steve Spielberg". Kaye adds, "The whole Argo story is incredible to begin with and worth reading or seeing; and, now (knowing) that Spielberg addition just makes the whole thing even more bizarre..." (Karen Pecota)