The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran is essentially a censor board through which fine Iranian filmmakers have to negotiate their work. Argo shows the brave CIA operative, Tony Mendez, approaching this ministry for permission to scout locations for his fake movie, ‘Argo’. Armed with false credentials, Mendez (Ben Affleck) smuggles out six US embassy officials during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80. At Tehran airport, they pose as Canadian crew for a science fiction Hollywood movie and fool the Iranian Revolutionary Guards long enough to board a plane to freedom.
Hollywood and the history of the CIA tend to have a largely fictional relationship. The government ministry in Iran, described as it is in Argo, was actually formed in 1984, long after the political aspects of the country’s revolution were in position. Poetic licence is the dicey part of this film on American heroics, especially when it deals with a rather unsavoury part of US foreign policy, Washington DC’s propping up of a regime that ruled with a secret police that used torture, the SAVAK, from 1957 to the revolution of 1979.
Still, Argo is a well made movie, never mind history and fiction. The best thing about the film is the late 70s look that is created. The haircuts, the use of language, the dress sense, the locations, all appear authentic. The TV footage of the period adds to the authenticity, and, to the film’s credit, it does not take short cuts in narrative, and is leisurely in the build up of character and events.
The other thing that is entertaining is the setting up of ‘authenticity’ in the fake ‘Argo’ movie in California. We see Hollywood’s publicity machinery in full glory. A report of the making of ‘Argo’ in the prestigious periodical, ‘Variety’, finally gets the crew through airport security. Fake it till you make it, as they say in Hollywood. An impressive film by Affleck.