Armageddon came on the heels of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon winning the Best Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting. The Michael Bay disaster flick wasn't the worst thing ever committed to celluloid, but it made fine grist for the hater mill. With just a few mainstream movies, Affleck and Damon went from wunderkinds to jokes. Then, when Ben human centipeded with J Lo--becoming Bennifer--making the disaster of a movie Gigli, the lingering scintilla of respect we had for the guy dried up. I always felt this derisive attitude was uncalled for. I liked Ben Affleck; still do. When Gone Baby Gone was released I remember there was an effort to dampen the fact that Affleck had helmed the film, so much so that there was a confused murmur in the audience when the Directed by Ben Affleck card hit the screen. It wasn't a corker of a movie, but it was good. His sophomore movie, The Town, was similarly strong and people must have been warming up to the idea of Affleck not being a chump enough that he was allowed to star. Now, with Argo, everyone seems poised to recalibrate their jerky knee-jerk Affleck hate.
Argo's a caper movie that manages to maintain all the classic will-they-or-won't-they-pull-it-off? tensions while also staying connected to its social and political impetus. The trailer sums up the background fairly well, but here's a primer: Reacting to the USA's sheltering of the just-deposed Shah, militants storm the embassy in Tehran. Six people manage to escape (approx. 50 others are taken) and hide out in the Canadian embassy. After having no better idea than sneaking in six bikes to peddle hundreds of miles to the border, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) concocts a The Producers-like ruse wherein he travels to Tehran posing as a filmmaker scouting locations for a sci-fi movie, Argo.
Hack got up and hay got made when the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. We Canadians felt like our role--specifically ambassador Ken Taylor's (played by the go-to Canadian, Victor Garber) role--in The Canadian Caper was under-represented. Affleck's act of contrition was to replace a snubbing card of postscript with this new one: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”
After you've seen Argo, why not check out this jenky, VHS-wobble copy of the TV movie Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper:
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