Embassy drama a tense thriller

23:00, Oct 31 2012
TENSE SITUATION: Ben Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez in dramatic thriller Argo.

M, 2hr
Reviewed by Peter Lampp.

To ease the tension while enduring this escape thriller about the American hostage crisis in Iran, various nervous responses were at play on the night we attended.

I nibbled nails, others perspired, nearby a woman popped popcorn from a jumbo box while almost everyone did well not to plummet off the end of their seats.

The patriotic Americans have been banging on about Ben Affleck's movie being an Oscar contender since before it was released and, historical inaccuracies aside, it might go close. But for those with heart flutters or nervy tics, be warned; it is one of those scary movies where you feel like darting out for a few minutes to take oxygen.

Filmed in Istanbul and the United States, it is loosely based on true events of 1979-80 after the Shah of Iran was overthrown, Ayatollah Khomeini installed and rabid students took American embassy staff hostage.

What few knew, notably the Iranians, was that six diplomats escaped the embassy and took refuge with Canadian diplomats. If it were not true, the movie's plot would seem far-fetched - the CIA using a sci-fantasy movie, Argo, as a cover story to try to get the hostages out.


The film is great entertainment and Affleck, as the director, has added realism, notably the haircuts and fashion of the time.

There is a scene in a Tehran bazaar where the hostility is palpable. A corpse swinging high from a crane was horrible, but it happened.

And the lifelike scenes of the students invading the embassy brought back memories.

It opens with archival footage which paints a picture of the history of the whole saga, even if the narrative is strewn with inaccuracies.

But hey, this is Hollywood. Affleck admits he has sexed up much of the film to add drama and maybe he had to. My pulsating pulse testified to that.

The script went as far as suggesting "the Kiwis" turned the six hostages away, when we now know the opposite was almost the case, even if Iran was our biggest lamb market at the time.

So we have essentially a heavily dramatised documentary. Affleck ably portrays the lead role of a laid-back exfiltration CIA agent (Tony Mendez) with a swarthy Persian appearance, but his is hardly an Oscar-winning acting performance.

For those who survive a coronary ambush, we get to see remarkable similarities between the actors and the real-life characters as the credits roll.

But if you are ever stuck at Tehran Airport, be thankful if you are a non-American.

Manawatu Standard