Last night, I caught the recent Iran caper, or Canadian Caper film, Argo, created by Ben Affleck. It tells the story of a CIA clandestine operation to get six Americans out of Tehran after the U.S. Embassy was stormed, initiating the interminable hostage crisis for the Carter Administration. The six took secret refuge in the Canadian embassy. The successful plan involved creating a cover story of a Canadian film crew scouting exotic locations for a tacky sci-fi adventure story with a middle eastern look to it. A Star Wars rip-off.
The story is basically true, and the film was entertaining and suspenseful. It was particularly good, I thought, at showing the tension of the six fugitives as they struggled to accept the least bad of a lot of bad choices for getting out of Iran. It also conveyed the release of the pent-up rage and near hysterical revolutionary fervor (that’s what happens when you keep the lid on people too long) of the Iranians rather well.
Personally, however, although I was entertained, I wasn’t buying it. The last minute glitches, and their skin-of-the-teeth resolution, the airport getaway finale, the Alan Arkin old-Jewish-guy producer character…it all seemed invented for Hollywood to me. (Of course, Affleck has to add a deeply personal note at the end, as the main character reconciles with his wife – why, we don’t know…)
As it turns out, a perusal of the Wikipedia article indicates that all those things were invented; dramatic license. There was some undiplomatic bashing of the Brits and other diplomats as well that was resented and refuted by those governments. And there were some trivial historical manipulations – showing the giant Hollywood sign in ruins (I remember it well) when it was actually repaired in 1978 – I wonder why ‘artists’ do that sort of thing in a film like this, but I’m just a viewer…
I was in Iran for about a week, leaving just a few days before the crisis erupted. I only spent 45 minutes in Tehran: as dumb as I was, I knew that was not a city to hang around in then. We met some soldiers on a train from the north, and they led us by the hand through the streets, filled with enormous packed crowds of men with black beards, all staring at us, until they saw us safely deposited on an express bus to the gorgeous city of Isfahan in the south. No crowds there. Just anti-American posters, and a lot of people who told us how much they loved Americans, and hated our government.