Movie Review – Argo
Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo tells the tale of a CIA operation to extract a group of American diplomats from war-torn Iran during the hostage crisis of 1979, using the guise of a fake science-fiction film to sneak them out as part of a film crew. In the film, Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) works with Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) to set up a fake sci-fi film called Argo as an excuse to escort the six diplomats in Iran, who have been in hiding at the Canadian embassy after the US embassy was stormed in the 1979 riots. The film is an amazing thriller, with a great eye for detail to its 1970s aesthetic, from the costumes to the hairstyles and vehicles. While the film itself is a fascinating look at this oddball operation from the 1970s, often called the “Canadian Caper” (because Canada played an integral part in the extraction of the American diplomats), there are quite a few embellishments that are made for dramatic effect, and others that are tantamount to whitewashing. All in all, the film portrays the spirit of the truth, while also leaving out quite a bit from the real story.
The movie is not without its biases; the CIA is propped up as the savior of the six diplomats in hiding, despite only playing a minor role. In reality, the Canadians did most of the work and took on most of the risk, especially Victor Garber’s character Ambassador Taylor. However, in the film he is basically a kindly host for the hostages who seems out of his element. Nonetheless, these changes allow the movie to be more thrilling, and actually uses the guise of the Argo film to comment upon its own status as a film and the anxieties of the Iranian people. Tony Mendez is whitewashed for Caucasian Ben Affleck, despite Mendez being Latino, which is a problematic element to the movie in a world where minorities are underrepresented in entertainment. The movie is not completely convincing in terms of its historical accuracy, but it is an incredibly effective thriller, leaving you at the edge of your seat during the climax even when you know everything will turn out to be okay.
Regardless of the ways in which it plays with truth, Argo is still extremely educational in terms of learning about the time period. The beginning segment of the movie provides a fascinating overview of the history of Iran (as framed through the storyboards of the Argo film) that may be educational for those who aren’t familiar. The film’s production design also gives you a glimpse of how people looked and dressed in the 1970s, evoking a very specific look that is interesting to watch. This movie deals heavily with American involvement in the Middle East, which the films shows was contentious and troublesome even a half century ago; audiences can learn about the ways in which Middle Easterners distrust and hate Westerners for their imperialism and meddling in the affairs of their country, something that most can sympathize with. In this respect, I think it is immensely useful to watch films like these to get a brief overview of history; I believe that they inspire further research to learn about the real events they depict.