(WACH) - Many people consider the trappings of Hollywood as the scourge of our society, but in the Autumn of 1979, Tinsel Town used the fine art of smoke and mirrors in a caper so daring few screenwriters could ever weave such a tale.
The film which is based on "The Canadian Caper", a true story taking place during the hostage crisis in the late 70's. Iranian militant groups, outraged over our involvement with the former Shah, overtook the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking sixty six hostages. Six American diplomats were able to escape and secretly sought refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, played kindly by Victor Garber. The unintentional houseguests are now in hiding and everyone, including the ambassador and his family, are in fear for their lives.The Canadian government quickly joined forces with the CIA to form a strategy to get the Americans safely out of the ambassadors home. After several ideas were shot down, a CIA specialist named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan so crazy that it just might work.
He proposes that they create a fictitious science fiction movie called "Argo" that is to be filmed in Iran. This would, of course, necessitate visits by "film crews" and location scouts. The plan was to smuggle out the six Americans as part of the phony film crew. Affleck plays Mendez as the calm and kind CIA operative who stepped up to take on the role of "Argo's" director, putting himself in the very risky position of Middle Eastern espionage. Fortunately, the lure of fame does not stop at our borders, and the highly suspicious Iranian government was easily distracted by the idea of seeing their homeland on the big screen. The popularity of "Star Wars", "Star Trek", and "Planet of the Apes" made the science fiction genre an easy sell to star struck, low ranking Iranian government officials, and the CIA was allowed entrance into Iran.
Meanwhile, back at the soundstage ... Hollywood is doing it's part by giving the fake film the full treatment. A staff, an office at Warner Bros. Studio, a fake company "Studio Six Productions" and full blown promotion for a film that was never reel (get it?) The lightness brought by Alan Arkin, acting as the producer and John Goodman as a make-up artist, cuts the intensity just enough to allow your blood pressure to return to normal. Putting up a front is what Hollywood does best, and this film gives you a glimpse inside the moving making machine as well as the irresistible seduction of fame.
The star-studded cast also includes stellar performances by Bryan Cranston as Affleck's CIA supervisor, and Tate Donavon as a U.S. consulate agent. Affleck's Mendez character didn't call for extroverted acting chops, but his directing skills are clearly on track. Argo has already won an AFI for Movie of the Year award, and the nominations for Best Director keep rolling in.
Argo is generally accurate with a little Hollywood licence for dramatic effect. The result is subtle, believable and definitely enjoyable. You can test your own supersleuth skills at the Argo website with their interactive spy app, and there's plenty of reading material if you're interested in learning the full story.
Sadly, John Sheardown, one of the Canadian diplomats resposible for housing and aiding some of the hostages, died on December 30, 2012 at the age of 88 in Ottawa, Canada and is survived by his wife and two sons.