Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Let's Win One for the Gipper
For all the fuss over the torture scenes depicted in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, I think more critics would have been concerned with the CIA praise poem Ben Affleck offers in Argo. Granted, he does give us a cartoon history of Iran in the intro to tell us why the Iranians stormed the US Embassy. Otherwise, we saw Tony Mendez become a hero for carrying out a "good bad plan" with a little help from one of the Farsi-speaking US diplomats who managed to ease the suspicious minds of the Revolutionary Guard during an interrogation before boarding their flight out of Tehran.
I think most persons had forgotten (myself included) that six Americans had managed to escape the US Embassy during that fateful day on November 4, 1979, and hid out in the Canadian ambassador's residence for 80+ days before their daring escape. For 20 years we were told this was the derring-do of the Canadian embassy, thanks largely to ambassador Ken Taylor, Our Man in Tehran. But, according to Tony Mendez in his 1999 memoirs, The Master of Disguise, this was an elaborate CIA "exfiltration" carried out in concert with the Canadian state department.
The CIA had kept this secret for nearly two decades, but decided to declassify the information in the late 90s, naming Tony Mendez one of its 50 Trailblazers for his masterful works of deceit over the years. You get the feeling that Mendez studied under Lansdale to hatch a plan like Argo. But, given the only other viable alternative was to get the six Americans out on bicycle in the middle of winter, I guess a science fiction movie set in ancient Persia was the best of the bad plans.
The film offers a number of amusing scenes thanks to John Goodman and Alan Arkin, but Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez utterly humorlessly. There were the occasional traces of irony and the ending bordered on farce, but Argo was essentially a homage to Mendez and his valiant effort to carry out his plan after it had been recalled by his chief. The Canadian ambassador and his lovely Asian wife were almost incidental in their roles, and the six Americans came across as nothing more than guests who had long overstayed their welcome in the Canadian ambassador's residence.
Of course, Kathryn Bigelow is deathlessly serious in her films, so I suppose by contrast Argo was a real crowd-pleaser. It certainly won over the award shows, not only in Hollywood, but it picked up three Baftas as well. I would think the British, if not anyone else, would see through this thinly veiled tribute to the CIA.