Released in 2012. Written by Chris Terrio based on the book by Tony Mendez. Directed by Ben Affleck. Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, and John Goodman. Running time 2 hours.
A bit of history of the Iranian government, rise and fall of leadership, and Americas acceptance of an exiled Iranian leader. This led to the unrest of the Iranian people and the demand to have The Shah returned to them to face justice.
On November 4th, protesters outside of the American Embassy in Tehran grow larger and louder. When the protesters begin to make their way over the walls and through the gate, orders inside the Embassy instruct the workers to destroy all documents. While documents and equipment are destroyed, the protesters get louder and closer. Military within takes the stand to use tear gas but not to shoot; otherwise a war could be started. Among the staff were six people who worked in the only building on the compound with an outside street access. They encouraged those Iranians they were helping to leave and used the exit themselves to escape.
The Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) took them in where they stayed in hiding. The remaining 66 of the Embassy workers were taken hostage, held in front of the camera with blindfolds, and threatened daily.
69 days later, the six Americans are still hiding out, the Canadian ambassador and country are increasingly afraid of what will happen if the Americans are found, and the Iranians have set up large groups of kids to piece the shredded documents together and photographs of the American Embassy staff. Meanwhile, the CIA tries to come up with a plan to get the Americans out. The CIA brings in Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) an expert in ex-filtration (getting people out of situations) and Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) with the task of coming up with a better plan than theirs.
Tony gets the idea to use making a movie in Tehran as a cover for the Americans to get out after watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes on television. The CIA thinks it’s a crazy idea but Tony enlists his Hollywood contact special effects make up guru John Chambers ( John Goodman) who brings in filmmaker Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) who help Tony find and create the basic idea of the fake movie plan.
Tony gets the go ahead from the CIA, still hesitant, and they begin to create buzz around Hollywood and the world for the fake movie so it carries more weight for the covers of the hiding Americans. They set up offices, have a poster and storyboards made, business cards, a read through of the script, and press. Tony’s ready to go, they have phony passports from Canada for the Americans, and a plan.
Tony gets to Tehran and immediately makes contact with the Tehran office to register for permission to make a film there. He then meets up with the Americans in hiding to tell them of the plan. They are all reluctant and afraid but ultimately decide to go along with it as their only chance to escape. Not only do the six Americans have to learn new identities, learn a basic understanding of how to make a movie and what their movie is about, they are asked to take a tour of the Tehran Bazaar for a guided location scout. After an intense exchange, the all make it back to the Canadian Embassy to prepare for their departure.
Later that night, Tony gets a call from Jack saying his mission has been called off and the CIA is sending in a military group instead. Tony basically says he’s responsible for these people and is going on with his original mission. Jack then scrambles to get the permission from President Carter and funds for the planes tickets for all of them.
Tony and the six Americans make their way to the airport and are told they have no reservations. Tony asks them to check again and the tickets are there. When they get to the next check-in, the carbons proving their flight into Tehran cannot be found but they get sent through after showing a letter from the Tehran film commission. When they get to the final checkpoint, the group gets detained. The Iranian military person questions who they are and what they’re really doing when one of the six Americans–the only one who speaks Farsi–shows him the publications and storyboards for the movie Argo. He explains the space war movie, complete with sounds effects, and a business card is given to the military official to confirm their identities.
Meanwhile, the office back in Hollywood is empty because John and Lester have stepped away. Just as the Iranian military official is about to hang up, after listening to the phone ring a dozen times, John answers the phone confirming Tony is away scouting a movie confirming their identities. Tony and the six Americans are released and they make it to the plane. Just before it takes off, the final pictures of the the Embassy staff–which have been pieced back together by the children–have made their way to the airport military official but they cannot stop the plane from taking off. Tony and the six Americans are free.
The Canadians are given credit for rescuing the Americans, the mission is classified and never to be spoken of, and Tony is awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Medal–which he is not allowed to keep or talk about. Ronald Reagan becomes the next President and the rest of the hostages are released from captivity after 444 days.
What I Liked
This film grabs you from the very beginning. The opening history is important to know and understand why the civil unrest of the Iranian people. Keeping in mind the time was 1979, no cell phones–no immediate information–the tension built outside the American Embassy was palpable. When the Iranians breached the walls, I was scared for those inside the Embassy. I could feel the clock ticking and the urgency they had to not only destroy documents but to get out. The whole film feels this way to me. Every moment spent working on the fake movie was important but I had this underlying sense of , “come on guys, hurry up!” In order for this plan to work, people had to be at the desk, near a phone, or in the right place at the right time. And they had to keep their cool.
The detail. Ben Affleck does his best to make it look and feel like 1979/1980. The special features section of my dvd goes deeper into this process and how important it what for him to be as authentic as possible. I think he was definitely successful. Was it perfect, no, but I wouldn’t know how and where the goofs are.
The music. I felt the urgency, the sadness, the feeling of defeat, and the hopefulness in the music underneath each scene. Fully supported.
The end credits showing the passports of the six Americans who were: Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham) and Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishé). They looked so close to the real people and they genuinely felt like people who had been hiding together for a long time.
What I Wished Was Better
While the real Tony Mendez didn’t mind being played by Ben Aflleck, and while I thought Affleck did a great job both as actor and director, Tony is much shorter, darker, and average looking which is perfect for a CIA agent’s ability to blend in. So many scenes of Ben Affleck towering over everyone else, standing out, not to mention it would have been nice to cast a person of color. *No, I don’t have an alternate actor in mind…
While I love the scene with the Tony and the six Americans being detained and the one shows the story boards and tells the plot of the movie speaking Farsi—it didn’t happen that way. The scene adds tremendous tension and you’re literally thinking at any moment they are going to be found out; but in reality, the plane they were trying to board was having technical difficulties and as soon as they were able to board, they did. I think the tension could have remained without the scene but I really really really liked the scene, so… the scene stays. Creative license 🙂
A Hollywood version of a mission so “crazy it just might work!” Ben Affleck’s Argo won Best Picture in 2012, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing. I think they were right.
Argo kept me on the edge of my seat in the theater where I saw it the first time and on my couch last night. I love movies about history, newly declassified information, and the crazy things people will do to carry out their missions or agendas. A must watch. I have it on DVD but I’m sure it’s available on streaming platforms. Watch the trailer below:
Fun Facts: Ben Affleck had the actors playing the six Americans live 24-7 together in the house used as the Canadian Embassy while filming so they would be more believable. In the film, it feels more like three days for Tony in Tehran–one to arrive and brief the six, one to take them to the Bazaar, and one to depart; however, Tony in reality was only in Tehran for 1 1/2 days. The confidential shredded and pieced back together documents are on display at a museum in Tehran.