Do you like to go to the movies to relax, laugh a little, or let your mind be at ease? If so, I can’t recommend the movie Argo. I recently saw the film, and although it was an excellent film, it was a stressful one as well. From start to finish, the audience feels directly connected to the hostages and the stress that they feel as they attempt their bizarre escape.
The movie stars Ben Affleck and is based on the true story of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Affleck also directed and produced the film. For those who need to brush up on their history (I did), the Iran hostage crisis involved Iranian revolutionaries taking over the US Embassy and holding more than 50 Americans hostage for 444 days. One of the driving forces behind this revolution and the storming of the US Embassy was that the US had helped to put a corrupt Shah in power and when he was overthrown in the revolution, he was permitted to the US for medical attention and the US refused the demands of the Iranian revolutionaries to extradite the corrupt leader (not surprising, since the US had originally helped put him in power).
However, before the revolutionaries completely took over the US Embassy, six Americans who worked there escaped. They found their way to the Canadian Embassy, who hid them away for a short period of time until the CIA was able to devise some type of plan to get them out of the country. The plan that the CIA came up with is where the movie gets its name. They decide that they will disguise the six Americans as a Canadian film-making crew who is in Iran to scout out the possibility of shooting the (fake) movie, Argo. They send a CIA special agent over – Affleck’s character – who supplies them with fake credentials and a fake movie outline/script that they learn. They then leave the country as the film-making crew, just before the Iranis figure out that they are actually the escaped Americans.
The movie opens with a rather terrifying shot of the US Embassy workers watching in horror as the Irani revolutionaries scale the fence and eventually break through the gates. They invade the embassy as those inside frantically try to shred or burn all of the important documents inside.
Aside from that opening scene, there actually isn’t a whole lot of action during the movie, but as I said above, it is a stressful movie. You get involved, and you really feel the stress and the tension of the situation. You feel the time crunch on the CIA’s side as they try to figure out the best solution in the shortest time possible. You feel frustrated and hopeless that they best idea they come up with is a visiting film crew. You feel the stress of the six Americans as they are crammed inside of the Canadian Embassy scared that at any moment the Iranis will barge in and discover them. They also see first-hand the level of fanatacism that accompanies the revolution as protestors fill the streets.
Throughout it all, we see the CIA waffling about the exit strategy, the Americans questioning whether the strategy will work, and the the Irani revolutionaries getting ever closer to discovering who the six Americans are and where they are located.
Stress.Full. I was on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the movie.
But that is part of what made it a great film. The authenticity of the movie seemed spot on. You felt transported with regard to both time and place. The direct connection and proximity to the characters’ situations made the film palpable.
Now the film was excellent, and it was based on a true story. With that being said, Affleck does openly admit that they took some liberties with the truth in order to add some dramatic flair. A few that wikipedia points out:
- Britain and New Zealand were not as unhelpful as portrayed in the film
- The timing of the escape, the CIA approval, and the Iranis catching onto the Americans was a bit overstated.
- Canada played a more prominent role in the escape than the movie depicted.
- The role of the Hollywood producer is overstated in the movie.
After watching the film, I was left curious as to how historically accurate it was. So like any good academic, I hopped right onto wikipedia to check it out, and found out that it was pretty decent. If nothing else, it caused me to browse a bit of history that I really didn’t know too much about beforehand. I would also have loved some sort of exit poll of average viewers – How much did you know before the movie and what exactly did you take away from the movie? (Specifically, do you still blame the evil revolutionaries/terrorists completely, or was there at least some role that the US played in this situation?)
So, it’s not a movie to sit just through and laugh or let your mind wander. But it is a great movie that is definitely worth seeing.