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This film image released by Warner Bros Pictures shows Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, (center), in ‘Argo,’ a rescue thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. (AP)
H’wood role in Iran crisis recounted ‘Argo’: real life story

LOS ANGELES, Oct 12, (Agencies): Actor-director Ben Affleck’s latest movie tells the incredible story of Hollywood’s role in an attempt to get a group of US diplomats out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
“Argo,” Affleck’s third film behind the camera, is set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution and the international standoff in which 52 Americans were held in Tehran for more than a year. The subject matter has clear topical resonance: the hostage crisis helped eject Jimmy Carter from the White House, and President Barack Obama, battling for re-election, is now facing pressure over attacks on US missions abroad.

But the 40-year-old Hollywood star says it was never his intention for the film — produced by George Clooney and out this weekend in North America, less than four weeks before the Nov 6 election — to be caught up in politics. “It was always important to us to let the movie not be politicized. We tried to make it very factual, fact-based, because it was coming up before the election in the US, when a lot of things get politicized,” he said. The real-life story — which was classified for years, and only became public in 1997 — starts with the US embassy in Tehran being seized by revolutionaries, who went on to hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

The Democratic Carter’s mishandling of the crisis led to his defeat by Republican Ronald Reagan the following year. As the mission was stormed, a handful of diplomats managed to escape through a secret exit and took refuge in the Canadian embassy. They were out of Iranian hands, but the next question was how to get them out of the country. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer Tony Mendez proposed a solution, which at first seemed far-fetched, but was eventually accepted. The idea was to mount a fictitious Hollywood science fiction movie production, ask Tehran for visas to scout for filming locations — and then get the diplomats out of the country disguised as film crew members.
“When I saw the script, I couldn’t believe how good it was,” Affleck told reporters, presenting the movie in Beverly Hills ahead of its release.

“What struck me almost right away was that we had this thriller, and in equal measure this kind of comic Hollywood satire and this really sort of intricate real-life CIA spy story, all based on truth.”
Affleck plays Mendez, a real-life former spy who was heavily involved in the movie’s production and even makes a brief appearance on screen.
“It was really inspiring to meet Tony. He was steeped in this movie. It was Tony’s story, Tony’s point of view,” said Affleck.
“He wanted to meet me at this old famous CIA bar in (Washington district) Georgetown, and he was telling me that it was where (CIA double agent) Aldrich Ames passed names of the American agents in Russia to his Russian handlers.

“When he told me that, it kind of sank in all of a sudden — this was real, this was a real story about a real guy who worked in a real world where real lives were at stake.”
“Argo” maintains a delicate balance of tone as it depicts the Iranian revolution and the violent embassy scenes while also showing how a Hollywood production is put together.
Affleck stressed the importance of historical accuracy.
“Naturally we wanted to be careful and judicious about presenting the facts and also stand firmly behind that, and say that this is an examination of this part of the world,” he said.
“Just because this part of the world is undergoing tumult, doesn’t mean you stop examining it or talking about it. I think that would be a bad thing.”

“Argo”, in fact, seems to be a great movie saddled with a seemingly lousy title. It’s not until you sit through “Argo,” and Affleck’s ripsnorting thriller, that the film’s title begins to make sense. It’s actually the perfect name, but it is not as if the title resonates with first-time hearers who’ve yet to see the film.
As a director (with help from screenwriter Chris Terrio), Affleck successfully surmounts three major challenges here. First, he has to establish the historical time frame and political setting for the Iranian hostage crisis, which he does both efficiently and clearly with a mix of archival footage and staged scenes showing the embassy’s takeover and the subsequent reaction in Washington DC and the nation.

Secondly, he has to tell a fish-out-of-water story as Mendez navigates the putrid shores of Hollywood while establishing his cover story as a movie producer working on “Argo.” These scenes, the funniest in the film, are sharply satirical as the CIA operative gets a crash course in the realpolitik of Hollywood with the help of two actual movie industry veterans, John Chambers (John Goodman), a special-effects wizard who has aided the CIA in the past, and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, who’s particularly hilarious), a seen-it-all producer. (“If I’m gonna do a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit,” Siegel says.)

Finally, Affleck has to keep ratcheting up the suspense as Mendez heads to Tehran and attempts to rescue the six Americans. Will they buy into this stranger’s seemingly wacky plan? And if they do, will it succeed? Let’s just say that the movie’s final section is so nail-bitingly tense, thanks to a skillful combination of acting, writing and crosscutting, that it puts Affleck in the big leagues as a director … ; he earlier directed 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone” and 2010’s “The Town.”

So, can Affleck do it all? Not quite. His performance as Mendez is efficiently competent but another actor — maybe George Clooney, who is one of “Argo’s producers, or buddy Matt Damon — might have brought more shadings and depth to the role. But that’s a minor complaint. Like “All the President’s Men,” the Watergate thriller set in close to the same time period, “Argo” is that rarest of Hollywood offerings: a smart film based on real-life events that’s also a sensationally suspenseful crowd-pleaser.

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