"Argo," Ben Affleck's latest directorial effort, is fast becoming one of the fall's most anticipated films.
The script, written by Chris Terrio, is based on the autobiography "The Master in Disguise" by Antonio Melendez as well as a 2007 Wired article by Joshua Bearman titled "Escape From Tehran: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Iran.
On Nov. 4, 1979, 52 Americans were taken hostage after the U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian revolutionaries. Remarkably, six of the endangered U.S citizens managed to escape and found refuge at the home of Kenneth Taylor, a Canadian ambassador. But their plight did not end there.
Iranian guards were dedicated to locating the six that fled and were believed to be gaining ground. The film tells the story of an operative known as the "Canadian Caper" that was carried out on Jan, 27, 1980 to reach the hostages before their hunters did and get them safely back to the U.S.. Mendez, the CIA's master of "identity transformation," was called in to rescue the civilians. With the clock ticking, Mendez proposed a seemingly ridiculous plan (referred to in the film as "the best bad idea...") that would prove to be a matchless operation of deception.
He and a group of CIA operatives would enter Iran under the guise that they were a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a B science fiction movie called "Argo." The fake film's concept was based on Roger Zelazny's "Lord of Light," a novel that had been in development but failed to make it to the big screen.
With the aid of his Hollywood contacts, Oscar wining makeup artist John Chambers and producing heavyweight Lester Siegel, Mendez invented Studio Six Productions (an inconspicuous reference to the six hostages in danger). The bogus studio made sure that the film's poster appeared in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety to corroborate their story.
Since the Iranian government was eager to generate business in the region, they accommodated the faux crew's request to survey filming locations in the country. Mendez and his team entered Tehran and encountered a series of events worthy of a cinematic retelling.
Those hostages that were unable to flee the embassy (about fourteen were freed by the end of 1979) were forced to remain in captivity for 444 days. After a failed rescue attempt, (that killed 8 American rescuers) they were freed once the U.S. agreed to pay the Iranian government $8 billion in frozen assets.
Affleck stars Mendez in the film while John Goodman and Alan Arkin portray Chambers and Siegel, respectively.
The rest of the cast includes Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Bryan Cranston, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Scoot McNairy, and Chris Messina.
George Clooney and Grant Heslov serve as the film's producers.
The film was screened at the Telluride Film Festival on Monday and earned rave reviews.
According to The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern, "'Argo' is Affleck's most ambitious film to date and proof of his maturation as a filmmaker, deftly weaving together thriller, satire, and historical-drama elements."
"Ben Affleck's 'Argo' delivers all the goods: A first-rate political thriller, it's intelligent, commercial, surprisingly funny, visually rich and, unfortunately, timely," says Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter.
"Hollywood is blamed for countless societal ills and rarely receives credit for doing anything good. In Ben Affleck's 'Argo,'" says John Horn of the Los Angeles Times, "however, show business plays a starring role in a real-life Middle Eastern rescue mission that was more inventive than most movies."
"Argo" marks the third film that Affleck has directed. His 2007 directorial debut, "Gone Baby Gone," received generally favorable reviews and earned Amy Ryan an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. His 2011 hit "The Town" was also praised by critics. Jeremy Renner was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the film.