Entering the 1950’s, Iran had the most mild government it had ever had, led by a democratically elected prime minister. However, in 1953, the US and UK overthrew the mild Iranian government and installed the Shah, who then appointed himself the absolute monarch. In 1979, angry with the Shah, Iranian militants stormed the US embassy, taking 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days,. This event it known as the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Argo, released on October 12, begins on the day when the embassy was stormed. Six Americans escape the embassy and manage to find refuge in the Canadian embassy. Back in the US, the state department attempts to establish a plan to get the six Americans home safely. Enter CIA specialist Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, who can see weaknesses in all of the escape plans being proposed. He has no ideas of his own until he watches Battle for the Planet of the Apes with his son. The movie gives him the idea to create an elaborate cover story that the six who escaped are Canadian filmmakers in the country on a location scout. His colleagues are highly skeptical, but he receives the go-ahead and flies to Iran to put his highly risky plan into action.
“I was impressed with the movie,” said senior Greg Zajic. “It certainly provided suspense and excitement, and also some dark humor. If I had one complaint, it would be the two-dimensional characters.”
Argo has been highly acclaimed by critics. Ben Affleck directed the movie in addition to starring in it, and most agree that his first time directing was a success. Argo has received generally positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, although some have pointed out that there were too many characters and a lack of character development, which I also noticed when I was watching the film.
I myself am a bit of an Iranian history fanatic and I have also visited the real former US embassy in Tehran, so I had fun pointing out the movie’s discrepancies to real life scenery and historical facts. However, I was still impressed with the accuracy and attention to detail displayed. The sets were very close to reality, and there were also subtle features which showed that careful research had been done. One detail I was particularly impressed with was a flag in the background during the opening scene of the movie, which depicted the Statue of Liberty with a skull for a face, which is the same as one of the images painted on a wall of the embassy today.
All of that being said, there were some aspects of the movie which I found troubling. First of all, the film came at a very poor time, since (depending on who you believe) the United States may be on the verge of going to war with Iran. Not only that, but it plays into highly stereotypical perceptions of Iranians. Not a single Iranian character is portrayed in a positive light. From the people in the market to the rebels themselves, all of the Iranians in the movie seem to be cold-hearted people with nasty tempers who are picking on the poor old Americans. The reality of Iran is much more complex. Like other recent visitors, I was struck by the widespread welcoming attitudes towards Americans in the country. There is certainly an adverse government hostility in the history of US/Iran relations and the Iranian regime is guilty of atrocious human rights violations, but that doesn’t mean that all Iranians are evil creatures.
The film could have presented not only a more balanced, but also a more accurate view of what Iran was going through at the time of the Hostage Crisis. Although there was an attempt to put the events into context, a less attentive viewer might easily not have realized that the revolution was the latest chapter in a post World War II narrative, one that began with America being instrumental in overthrowing Iran’s first democratic government for the sake of gaining access to more oil.
On the whole, Argo was very well done. I would even go so far as to say that you can expect to see it in the running for an Academy Award. It was certainly worth my eight dollars, and there were a lot of things I liked about it. However, I would suggest doing research before seeing it so that you can think about the events in context, and I would also keep in mind that there is far more to Iran than what is portrayed in Argo.