One of my earliest memories was of watching the morning news and seeing mobs of Iranians on the streets of Tehran chanting angry slogans and burning the American flag.
For as far back as I can remember, Iranians – and Middle Easterners in general – have not liked Americans. During my lifetime, Americans have simply not been welcome in much of the Middle East.
It’s hard to imagine being aboard a flight landing in Baghdad, Cairo, Beirut, or Tripoli and not being afraid for my life. For young people, it is hard to believe that there was a time when the Muslim world was cool with us.
And yet that time existed. Of course it did. We are no where near the Middle East and we aren’t in economic competition with them. There is no reason why we have to be adversaries.
In 1975, it was probably safer to go to Tehran than to New York City. It’s sad to think how quickly and terribly our relationship with Iran has deteriorated.
In “Argo,” director Ben Affleck gives us a snapshot of the historical moment when everything changed. It was 1979 and the Shah of Iran – an english speaking, west-friendly tyrant – had just been overthrown and replaced by a xenophobic, regressive Shiite cleric.
Shah is the Persian word for Caesar. And the Shah was like a Roman Caesar: arrogant, decadent, and ruthless. The Iranian people were not pleased that the United States had supported the Shah while he was in power. And they were doubly displeased when we gave the deposed ruler asylum instead of leaving him to be tried and executed at home.
The story begins with an Iranian mob storming the American Embassy and taking 70 hostages. Only there were 76 in there. Six clever Americans managed to slip out and sneak over to a Canadian diplomat’s house to hide.
But eventually they were going to be discovered. It was up to CIA spy Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to get them out unharmed. He came up with the bold, brilliant notion of posing as a film producer who had come to Iran to scout location for his next movie. The plan was to have the six hidden diplomats pose as his Canadian film crew so they could evade the police and fly out with Mendez.
It was so crazy that it just might work.
“Argo” is one of the best reviewed films of the year and I don’t think it deserves it. Yes, the final hour is non-stop suspense. But there is nothing but suspense.
Director Ben Affleck made one crucial mistake: hiring actor Ben Affleck for the lead role. Tony Mendez is one of the most boring, colorless heroes in movie history. We never get to know how he became the most innovative extraction expert in the CIA and we never understand what is motivating him to risk his life for these six strangers.
Affleck focuses all his energy on building heart-pounding suspense. And though he does a great job, it doesn’t make for a very pleasant film. After a while, I was wishing that those poor people would get out of Iran already so my heart would slow down. Moviegoers with weak hearts or high blood pressure should avoid “Argo.” Seriously.
“Argo” is a good history lesson. A solid thriller. And an overrated movie.