The Independent London Newspaper


CINEMA: It's a Shah thing as Ben Affleck directs and stars in Argo

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Ben Affleck directs and stars in Argo

Ben Affleck directs and stars in Argo

Published: 8 November, 2012

Directed by Ben Affleck
Certificate 15
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars

Argo was a late-1970s sci-fi movie, aiming to jump on the crazy Star Wars bandwagon that saw studios desperate for another cowboys-in-space flick to mimic George Lucas’s hit.

It had spaceships. It had aliens. It had laser-gun shootouts in an arid, desert moon.

Except it didn’t. The film never really existed, and, as this film based on true events shows, it was a strange side-story to the hostage crisis of 1979-1980 that holed Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid below the waterline.

Six American low-level diplomats were in the Tehran embassy when America offered asylum to The Shah, who was dying of cancer and had fled Iran.

The Iranians demanded he return to face justice, and when the Americans said no, students and political activists took to the streets.

The six watched as hundreds of furious Iranians clambered over the gates of the embassy compound. They watched as windows were smashed in, doors forced open, and then took the brave and split-second decision to sneak out of an unguarded back door and step boldly into the streets of Tehran.

They eventually found themselves being offered a temporary hiding place at the home of the Canadian ambassador – but then had the tricky situation of what to do next.

In a Tehran where anti-American feeling was running at boiling point, if the Americans were caught they would be arrested and executed, or grabbed and lynched.

So what happened next? This film, with a watchable mix of humour and tension, reveals all.

Director and lead Ben Affleck has stocked up the scenes with some stereotypical bearded Republican Guards who seem only to talk at screeching decibels. But, in fairness, he has also tacked on a prologue that puts the issue into context: it explains how Iran elected a democratic, progressive government in the early 1950s which was overthrown in a bloody coup by the Shah, backed by Britain and America.

The Shah quickly turned Iran into a personal fiefdom to make himself and his supporters a fortune from oil, oppress democracy, kill and torture opponents and cause civil breakdown.

In 1979, he was deposed, and religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini was called back from exile. From this stems so many of the West’s problems with Iran today.

When you watch this potted history of the country, the mistrust and anger towards the West and the idea of our nation “fostering” democracy in such places seems incredibly hollow and hypocritical.

Without this prologue, you could happily dismiss Affleck’s film as a rather enjoyable but crude attempt to tell an exciting true story. But with this pegged onto it, and the fact the events really happened, the film rises a few notches higher.

This is entertaining, tense and sometimes thought-provoking stuff, a worthy attempt by Affleck.


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