Friday, October 12, 2012

Argo [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Argo (directed by Ben Affleck, screenplay by Chris Terrio based on an article by Joshuah Bearman) is about the truly remarkable story of how the CIA led by agent Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in the film) was able to get 6 U.S. diplomats who had been taken in by the Canadian Ambassador out of Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-81.

Following the 1977 overthrow of the Shah of Iran, who had been reinstalled to the Iranian throne by a coup engineered by the CIA and British intelligence in 1953 after a democratically elected government had moved to seize back Iranian oil concessions to British and American oil interests, the Islamic revolutionary regime was further incensed when in 1979 the U.S. under the Carter Administration had given the deposed Shah _temporary asylum_ in the United States to _undergo cancer treatments_.  The result was the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November, 1979.  During the chaos of the initial hours of the storming of the embassy, six U.S. diplomats who worked in the Consular department of the Embassy (and by luck happened to have access to a direct exit to the street) managed to flee the Embassy compound and take refuge at the Canadian Ambassador's Residence (the Canadian Ambassador played by Victor Garber).   Wonderful, but what now?  To a certain extent, since they were unaccounted for (even though the Iranian regime didn't seem to know about them) they were arguably in bigger danger than the actual hostages who the Iranian regime was holding but was also as a result responsible for.  What now?

Extraction options were minimal.  Back at the State Department in Washington DC and at CIA headquarters at Langley numerous options were considered but none seemed feasible.  What to do?   The idea that the CIA came-up with was to invent buzz about a Canadian film crew looking to see if Iran (of all places) would be a good place to film portions of a (fake) science fiction movie ("exotic desert location, yada, yada, yada...").  Using a contact that the CIA had in Hollywood, a makeup artist named John Chambers (played in the film by John Goodman), Tony Mendez learned what would be needed to put together a credible cover story to make the idea work.  He needed a producer.  John was able to put him in contact with Lester Siegel (played in the film by Alan Arkin).  Then they needed an actual script.  They found and bought one called "Argo."  Then they created an entire "small production company" around the film (well at least an office with a phone in a studio lot somewhere in Burbank, CA).  They then planted a few articles in Hollywood trade magazines like Variety and created a poster as well a storyboard for the key scenes for the film.  They didn't have Tony Mendez (under an assumed Canadian name/passport) go directly to Iran but rather first to Egypt and Istambul and then only "on orders" from Producer Siegel "to simply check on a whim" apply to go to Tehran from Istambul to scout out "possible shooting locations" in Iran.  When Mendez got to Iran (with six other Canadian passports along with six complete fake identities/curricula vitae for the Americans at the Canadian Ambassador's residence) he had only two days to get them out.  It was nerve wracking because they had to pretend to be an actual film crew (despite never having done anything of the sort) in Tehran for that thankfully short period of time.

Obviously it worked and the story of the escape of the six Americans who had been hiding under protection of the Canadians (even though details of this operation remained classified for a very long time) was one of a very few bits of "good news" to have come-up during the whole Iranian hostage ordeal.  Indeed, almost exactly at the same time as these six Americans were able to leave Iran, a larger attempt to rescue all of the hostages failed in spectacular fashion.

U.S. relations with Iran have never really gotten better in the decades since since.  Over the course of the last several years, there has been increasing concern that we may have to go to war with Iran in the near future to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.  This film does come out at a time when tensions between the United States and Iran have been increasing.

So is this film something of a propaganda piece?  Here I would say that if it is, it is _a very good/effective one_.  I say this because the film both at the beginning at its end seeks to put its story in its proper context.  The 1977 Iranian Revolution didn't come by accident.  It was the result of an Iranian reaction to decades-long U.S. support for the Shah's brutal regime, which was put up by the U.S. and Britain to support U.S./British oil interests.  So the film makes clear the U.S. didn't / doesn't have clean hands either.

Yet over the course of the last 35 years, the Iranian government has needlessly chosen to give itself problems with the United States. This film reminds Americans that we have also been hurt and that we have grievances against Iran too. 

And if it does come to war between the United States and Iran in the coming years, this film will certainly helps to explain, quite soberly, to Americans, why we would have arrived at that point.  So I wonder:  Will this film will be on Ahmadinijad's "Netflix" queue ... it should.

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