Argo tells the story of the CIA operation to get six US diplomats out of revolutionary Iran.
Argo starts well by giving a ‘potted history’ of US involvement with Iran. It tells how the CIA helped organise a coup d’état against the elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who nationalised the oil industry. The US put the hated Shah on a throne and helped train his secret police.
Set against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis the film conveys the real danger to the six in hiding. 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 day from November 4, 1979 and they were in real fear for their lives. The hostages have described mock executions and being paraded before angry crowds among other ill-treatment and psychological torture.
The story is a gripping one with many tense moments as the diplomats hide-out at the Canadian embassy and a rescue is attempted. It is a very watchable movie which doesn’t rely on firing guns or extreme violence to entertain. Argo keeps you in suspense throughout because of the peril of the diplomats as they risk being found and detained (or worse). Argo also is humourous in parts despite the very serious subject.
I am not, however, an uncritical fan of Argo. I was struck by three things. First, the Iranian people are generally portrayed as continually angry. The only sympathetic Iranian character is a maid who helps the US and leaves the country! All other Iranians are pretty one-dimensional and clearly the ‘bad guys’. This does not fulfil the promise of the opening statements which do give a glimpse of why the Iranian/American relationship is so bad. Second, the role of the Canadians, Swedish and Italians in getting the diplomats out is very underplayed and the CIA role exaggerated. Third, there is no mention of the failed rescue mission of April 24, 1980 where eight American airmen and one Iranian civilian sadly died. Perhaps this was left-out of the narrative so as not to spoil the feel-good nature of the successful rescue that the film centres on?
Reviewed by Pat Harrington