It has been awhile since I've seen a movie at the theater. It seems like the only chance we have is when the kids have a day off from school. This past Friday, my son and I decided we needed to go see this film. It has been getting serious Oscar buzz and has a crazy-high score on Rotten Tomatoes of 95% (for both viewers and critics). My mom had seen it and said it was a fascinating movie about a piece of history none of us really knew anything about.
Indeed it is. Back in 1979, a group of enraged Iranian revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Iran in retaliation for the US's support and harboring of the overthrown Shah. They took most of the embassy staff as hostages (that were ultimately held captive for somewhere over 400 days), but six employees escaped out the back door and took refuge at the Canadian Embassy, hiding in a cellar whenever they feared detection.
CIA Specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who looked nothing like the real-life Latino, but I guess those are the perks if you are the director) is called upon to figure out a way to get these six people out. Through some of his connections in Hollywood (John Goodman and Alan Arkin), he creates a fake movie, with a script, a press release and all the trimmings, to support the ruse of a group of Canadian studio execs scouting out exotic filming locations in Iran. Biographies are invented for the six Embassy employees, from camera operator to costume designer. With Mendez in the lead, they are to pretend to traipse around Tehran (where spies hang from construction machinery in the streets), looking for places to shoot their movie. The risk is real and terrifying, the consequences of discovery being a very public death. After they have convinced the Iranian government they are studio execs, their plan is to hop on a plane and get the hell out.
The story would certainly fall in the category of "you can't make this shit up". I was fascinated and thoroughly tickled by the lengths at which Goodman and Arkin's characters go to make a really bad Star Wars rip-off seem legitimate. They took the challenge like a couple of geeky teenagers. Seasoned, snarky geeky teenagers.
I can't tell you that they have captured all the facts as they happened. Who even knew about this? The mission was only declassified during the Clinton era. But based on what I've read, the basic elements were true. I did smell a strong acrid whiff of overcooked melodrama at the end. I sincerely doubt the Iranian officials were chasing the airplane, containing the six Embassy employees and Mendez, in their jeeps down the runway, attempting to shoot out the tires. I'm sure Hollywood believes it must deliver some shooting and chasing to satisfy the masses. Beyond this little display of schmaltz, the movie did hold my interest and maintained a tense little knot in my stomach for the duration. You pretty much know things are going to work out, but Iran is a scary place and I was scared.
The movie is rated R for a few f-bombs and some stark images of people being hung in the streets. However, I felt it was fairly safe stuff for my 13 year-old, and in fact would tell you that this is the kind of story that fires up his mind. It was a great slice of history that, based on recent event, has seemed to morph and repeat itself.
4 out of 5 stars