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Based on the declassified true story

Only in Hollywood would a classic Hollywood ending be deemed insufficiently enthralling and in need of embellishment. Ben Affleck’s thriller Argo does exactly this. It revisits the well-told 1980 “Canadian Caper” rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran and declares it was really a covert American CIA operation all along, one with Tinseltown glitter and car chases. Argo brazenly goes there with style, wit and a good deal of excitement. The film is a whopper of a tale, one designed for Oscar nominations, Best Picture and Best Director among them. The enthusiasm is understandable. Affleck really ups his game here in his third go behind the lens, establishing mood, pace and character as surely as the 1970s directors he carefully emulates. Argo is great entertainment. Does it matter that Affleck’s movie, and Chris Terrio’s script, bear about as much resemblance to the real story as a Twizzler does to a strawberry? Perhaps not, if the crunch of your popcorn can drown out the sound of discarded facts swirling the drain, as so often happens when Hollywood meets history. Ken Taylor, Canada’s ambassador to Iran in 1980 and the man long credited for the success of the audacious Canadian Caper, said recently in this very newspaper that Argo is the “Hollywood play time” version of events. The film elevates and exaggerates a minor part of the rescue plan, the concocting of a cover story that the six diplomats were Canadian filmmakers scouting Iranian locations for their “Star Wars rip-off” that gives Affleck’s thriller its title. CIA “exfiltration expert” Tony Mendez created the movie ruse months after the six diplomats fled the invaded U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where Iranian dissidents were holding dozens of other Americans hostage. Affleck plays Mendez in Argo, and he’s deemed to be the MVP of the caper. Taylor (Victor Garber) is downgraded to concierge, chauffeur and dispenser of fine Scotch, a good Canadian meekly assisting his American betters. Mendez conscripts two Hollywood veterans — makeup wizard John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) — to help him create a sci-fi film scenario that would stand up to scrutiny by Iranian authorities. It’s deemed the “best bad idea” among a number of risky rescue plans. Goodman and Arkin have Argo’s best lines as they gleefully skewer Hollywood’s eagerness to fake sincerity and reality. Whenever they appear on the screen for their comic-relief turns, Argo turns into a cross between Wag the Dog and The Producers. Funny how this goes. Affleck takes pains to make small details believable. Much of Argo was shot on location in Istanbul, the safest Tehran lookalike. The disco-era clothes, haircuts and glasses are authentically awful, and for once the soundtrack tunes — which including songs by Led Zeppelin and Dire Straits — aren’t woefully anachronistic. Even the font used for the Argo title is era appropriate. And the film stays mainly true to the historical record in the early going. Affleck effectively recreates the 1979 capture of the U.S. Embassy by dissident students, who were angry that the Americans had granted New York asylum to the deposed Shah of Iran, hated and ailing. The six U.S. diplomats who escape through a back door find safety at the Canadian Embassy, after being turned away by other countries. But then “69 Days Later” appears on the screen, and the Hollywood play time Taylor speaks of really kicks in. From this point on, as a bearded and bossy Affleck takes charge — under the indulgent command of his CIA superior, well played by Bryan Cranston — Argo becomes almost total fiction. The third act is chock full of thriller clichés, including suspicious passport control officers, miracle computer file transfers (and this is 1980!) and airport tarmac chases. They all do what they’re supposed to do, just like a Big Mac sliding down your throat. The film, alas, is also full of regrettable stereotypes. Every Iranian, save the Taylors’ noble housekeeper, is depicted as swarthy, shifty and dangerous. Affleck also can’t resist a quick shot of women in hijabs eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, for an “aha!” moment of hypocritical Iranians embracing American culture. Should we expect anything else from Hollywood, which is in the business of distorting the truth to sell as escapism? Affleck has learned his lessons well. He transforms the Canadian Caper into an exciting American con job, with a Hollywood ending better than the real-life Hollywood ending, truth be damned. He’s mindful of that famous quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Argo’s legend will be taken as fact by many people, Canadians among them. But Affleck has at least changed an offensive postscript, seen at the film’s TIFF premiere, which implied that Canada and Taylor had taken false credit for the rescue. Pass the popcorn, and for anybody who still wants to quibble over the historical details, Affleck’s film has a catchphrase for you: “Argo f--- yourself!” Courtesy: Peter Howell, The Toronto StarOfficial Trailer
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Directed by: 
Ben Affleck
Running Time: 
Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber
Screenplay by: 
Chris Terrio

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