Thursday, November 1, 2012


by Pa Rock
Movie Buff

Last night I faced a tough decision.  Either I could stay home and deal with the parade of little costumed beggars who would be knocking unrelentingly at my door, or I could get the hell out of Dodge and go do something.  I opted to take in a movie:   Argo, Ben Affleck's film on an important but little known piece of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81.

Argo covers a facet of the crisis that was not completely revealed to the public at the time. Six United States embassy workers made it out of the embassy compound as the Iranian students stormed the facility.  The six then hid for several months in Tehran at the home of the Canadian ambassador and his wife.    Their ultimate escape from Iran was planned and carried out by the CIA, but the American spy agency could not take credit for their heroic achievement at the time because to do so would have put the remaining hostages at the embassy at risk for further torture and possibly even death.  Canada got the public credit for the very well planned and executed CIA operation.

Ben Affleck directed Argo and also starred in the film.  His character, Tony Mendez, was the CIA agent who came up with the actual plan for getting the six embassy workers out of Iran.  It was Mendez who flew into Iran and led the activities that ultimately freed the six.  Agent Mendez did not receive public recognition for his daring feat until 1997 when he was honored by President Clinton for his heroic actions.

And what was this amazing plan that ultimately freed the six who were known in CIA circles as "the house  guests"?

Mendez formed a team with a Hollywood make-up artist (John Goodman) and an aging director (Alan Arkin).  Their objective was to set the ground work for producing a movie that would get Mendez into Iran for the ostensible purpose of scouting for locations.  He would go in as a Canadian which would give him plausible access to the ambassador and the ambassador's home.   Once inside the home, he would school the embassy workers on the movie business and their new identities and backgrounds as they became a part of his production team.   When the location-scouting was over, Mendez would have to get his crew onto a plane and out of Tehran.

It was a very complicated plan that involved components that could easily go wrong.  But, it worked.

Argo is an intelligent blend of fine acting and old news clips.  One moment we are watching the actors as they suffer through their captivity, and the next we see a young Tom Brokaw or Ted Koppel reporting on the situation in Iran - circa 1979.  Tehran is bustling and angry, and viewers are left with a real sense of the geopolitical situation and where that anger was coming from.  There is also a good dose of humor poked at Hollywood as Mendez, and later the hostages, come to grips with some of the absurdities involved in making a movie.

Argo is a very satisfying film, both as a documentary that explores an important event in our country's history, and as a taut and dramatic adaptation of that event.    Ben Affleck shines as a director, and his work is well beyond the range of even the most exceptional rhesus monkey.

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