There has been a lot of speculations surrounding the genuineness and credibility of Ben Affleck’s movie Argo ever since it picked up the Oscar for Best Picture, a huge achievement for an actor who used to be a teen idol. It was also awarded three BAFTAs for Best Film, Best Editing and Best Director. Despite the hype, some critics were a bit miffed with the film’s apparent bending of the truth and how Affleck seemed to gloss over certain important details of the Iranian hostage crisis depicted in the film.
For instance, the climax of the movie “Argo” takes place at the airport in Tehran. Six Americans, having hidden in Iran for three months, are taking this one chance to get out of a country that’s embroiled in revolution and anger. Their cover is that they’re part of a science-fiction film crew; their guide is Tony Mendez, a C.I.A. operative. Warning – there are spoilers below, so if you haven’t seen the film, don’t read this yet – instead, sell some of your old DVDs at sites like www.musicmagpie.com and go buy Argo!
Is it true to the real-life story?
Firstly, you have to understand that Argo isn’t trying to be a documentary. It’s entertainment (good entertainment, at that) and works primarily as a political thriller about rescuing unfortunate American diplomats from a rather unsavory situation in Iran. The British and Canadian governments have issued statements detailing their displeasure at the changes made to the story in the film. In the film, one of the characters claims that they were ‘turned away’ by the British embassy. This is partly true – the Brits warned them that the Iranian soldiers were en route to look for them there – but in the film, this is made out as if the Brits just shooed them away.
The Canadian government has gripes with the film because it undermines the amount of effort the Canadian ambassador went through to hide them there, instead lauding the CIA (and Hollywood) with being the good guys who masterminded everything.
Does any of this really matter?
Yes and no. Whether it matters or not is disputed. It doesn’t matter if you see it as just a Hollywood thriller that was made purely for entertainment. However, it does matter in the sense that this will be the most widely watched version of the events that transpired.
It also matters because most of the Iranians portrayed in the movie are done so unfairly. Some would argue that the Iranian people are portrayed in a rather worrying light, with implications that might be quite damaging, given relations between the two countries right now.
Should you watch it?
Absolutely. Historical inaccuracies notwithstanding, it’s a solid thriller with some great performances, particularly from Mr Affleck himself. It’s very suspenseful from start to finish (even though you know how it‘s going to end). If anything, it’ll give you an excuse to find out more about the 1979 hostage crisis, and read up about a part of history you didn’t know about before.
However, at the end of the day, sticking closer to the facts might have resulted in an Argo movie that’s less accessible and watchable for your average moviegoer; though, on the hand, also one more thoughtful and even-handed than your average cinematic sermon from Hollywood. The path Affleck took played to his strengths as a storyteller, more so than a different strategy would have. Maybe somewhere down the road, as Affleck continues to gain confidence (not to mention, credibility) as a director, he will strive to break further away from convention than he has so far.