What an exciting story. Six employees of the American embassy in Tehran, when 50 others are taken hostage in 1979, manage to escape from the embassy building and take secret refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador and his wife. The President (Jimmy Carter), the State Department and the CIA are determined to get the out of the residence and out of Iran, but how? All they have are bad ideas, and the best of the bad ideas seems none to good.
Send a CIA intelligence officer into the country under false papers identifying him as a Canadian film producer, create false Canadian identities for the six Americans which portray them as affiliated with the fake company which has been put together to look like it is making a film, have it look like they are in Tehran looking for filming locations, and arrange for them to leave Iran together on a Swissair flight to Zurich.
Easier said than done, of course, because Iran keeps close records on visitors who come into the country, and there are no entry records on file for these six “Canadians”, and because the Iranian officials learn that not all of the American embassy personnel are accounted for by the 50 being held.
Miraculously, the escape works. Because of obvious safety concerns for the other hostages, it cannot be said that Americans organized and carried out this escape. For twenty years, it was considered a Canadian accomplishment until President Clinton declassified the files in 1997. The American operative, Tony Mendez, wrote about the escapade in his memoir “Master of Disguises”, a signed copy of which is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. I will see how closely the film mirrored the memoir.
“Argo” (that’s the name of the fake movie the fake film company was producing) has opened to very strong reviews. I liked the film, but contrary to my most recent theater review (“Holly Down in Heaven”), the strength of this film was in the story itself, and not in anything technical that I saw in the film. In fact, I thought the film a little flat and understated, and thought that more could have been done, that the tension could have been built up more effectively.
This is not to say that you should avoid seeing “Argo”. On the contrary, it is an unbelievable, true story that you should know. And, although the movie did not touch me as the best adaptation of this story, your reaction might be quite different.