The story of political intrigue told in Argo is one familiar to every Canadian baby boomer. Thing is, this movie adds a whole new twist to the tale.
Argo concerns the rescue of six American consulate workers trapped in Iran in 1979. They were among those in the U.S. Embassy building in Tehran when it was taken over by Iranian militants. Although dozens of Americans were subsequently held hostage for over a year, these six escaped the building and made their way to the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor.
While Taylor and his wife hid the Americans, a plan was put together to get them out of Iran and safely home to the States. The six were to be issued fake Canadian passports and disguised as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie called Argo. It was a hugely risky undertaking that eventually became known as the 'Canadian Caper'.
What Ben Affleck's movie reveals is that there was far more to the story, including the involvement of the CIA and a couple of big Hollywood players.
Affleck directs and stars in the movie as CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez, the man who thought up the Argo scheme.
Mendez knows the Iranians will meticulously check every detail, so he enlists the help of a Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and a makeup expert (John Goodman) to ensure that Argo looks like a bona fide film production to all concerned. This moves the action in Argo back and forth between the political tension and violence in Iran and the comical make-believe of Hollywood; to be sure, the pen is mightier than the sword, and Affleck makes his point here without hitting anyone over the head with it.
Argo is funny, scary and completely enthralling. And it's smart. Affleck is careful to set the scene historically with a prologue that outlines the fall of the Shah, the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the roots of the U.S./Iranian conflict.
He seamlessly blends archival news footage into the mix, and deftly marries the drama in Iran to the comedy in Hollywood. The film isn't perfect -- it loses momentum in a couple of spots and some of the characters feel underdeveloped -- but it's mighty close. Argo is based on a gobsmacking true incident, and Affleck does an impressive job of bringing it all to life on the big screen. This is a great yarn, well told.