From the strange-but-true files comes this little nugget, a little known piece of recent history that is all the more trenchant due to recent events.
With violence and political unrest swirling around in Iran and the Middle East in general, amongst the many attributes of Argo is simply the reminder that there has not been any political stability in that region in many decades.
Argo is based around the last real catastrophic period in the history of the US and Iran – the 1979 attack on the American Embassy which led to 52 embassy employees to be held hostage for well over a year.
Less remembered was the fact that at the time, six consulate employees were able to escape the Embassy, but they were trapped in a country where they would be held hostage or killed if they tried to leave. The US government came up with a far-fetched idea to liberate those citizens and give credit to the Canadians for the rescue.
Argo tells the amazing facts behind the rescue of those Americans, which have only recently been declassified.
Apparently, the American’s were smuggled out when a CIA operative came up with the crazy idea of pretending to be a producer filming a cheesy science fiction film scouting for locations and slipping the escaped consulate members out of the country masquerading as his crew.
This makes Argo and odd and extremely enjoyable hybrid – a spy escape drama merged with a Hollywood parody. It is sort of has the same kind of surreal feel as Barry Levinson and David Mamet’s Wag the Dog, but Argo has the added benefit of being mostly true.
Affleck proves himself to be a savvy filmmaker again, balancing a tense sense of futility in the hostage scenes with the much more campy sections revolving around the creation of a believable fake film. Alan Arkin in particular steals the movie as a savvy old school producer who loans his name and reputation to the cover story.
Needless to say, the scenes of Mideast unrest feel oddly timely (let’s face it, it has been a constant for about 50 years) and the true story gives Argo a sense of urgency, even though most people know how it all turns out.
Argo takes recent history and makes it exciting, funny and touching.
Jay S. Jacobs