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Cinema in Focus: ‘Argo’

Ben Affleck creates an accurate and compelling story of the escape of six diplomats during the Iranian Revolution of 1979

4 Stars — Powerful

When a film is based on a true event, it not only reports history but can impact the present. This is especially true when the humanity of an historical event is displayed in a personal way so that we can understand the persons, motivations and decisions involved. During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, after a troubled history between the United States and Iran, the U.S. embassy was overrun and 52 Americans were taken hostage. What was not known at the time was that six Americans escaped through a back door and took refuge in the Canadian embassy.

Argo tells the story of these six escapees.

Based on an article by Joshuah Bearman titled “Escape from Iran,” the leadership of CIA operative Tony Mendez is key to this event. Designing and leading the unlikely plan to pass off the six diplomats as members of a Canadian film crew, Tony placed his own life on the line and flew into the turmoil to use this deception to bring them safely home.

Based on an exceptional screenplay by Chris Terrio and artfully directed by Ben Affleck, who also plays Mendez in the film, the film weaves together historical footage and facts with moving personal experiences. The ensemble cast includes not only the six diplomats but the Hollywood moguls who made the escape possible.

The six diplomats are Robert Anders (Tate Donovan), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), Henry Schatz (Rory Cochrane), Joseph Stafford (Scoot McNairy) and Kathleen Stafford (Kerry Bishe).

The Hollywood connection is Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (John Goodman), who created the science fiction film Argo to support the deception. Also instrumental in the protection of our diplomats were Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) and his wife Pat (Page Leong).

Stay for the credits to see that the film’s commitment to be historically accurate is exhibited not only in the electronics used but also in the casting of actors who are remarkable lookalikes to the people actually involved in this real-life drama.

The historic struggle between the United States and Iran continues today. Although the film focuses on the Americans and Canadians, it does allow us to see the courage of the Iranian housekeeper of the Canadian ambassador as well as gives an historical description at the beginning explaining why Iran’s anger toward the United States developed. As we continue to see diplomats dying in countries that are angry with U.S. policies, we hope that we can better predict and prevent the danger as we also identify and enact solutions.

Discussion:

» The declassifying of this event in 1997 by President Bill Clinton allows us to understand what methods were used to protect our people. Do you believe that publicizing this information is wise? Why do you answer as you do?

» The voice-over by President Jimmy Carter explaining that he would have liked to take some credit for the cooperation between the United States and Canada seems disingenuous since his administration actually shut down the rescue plan at a crucial moment. Do you think this part of the story is true or fabricated to build the tension of telling this tale?

» What do you think the United States government needs to do in order to find peace with Iran?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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