Image from the movie ARGOOverall Impression – Surprisingly slight, but still effective thriller.


Who is your main character? – CIA agent Tony Mendez.

What is he trying to accomplish? –  Physical – Get the hidden embassy workers out of Iran without getting killed.  Emotional – Stay connected with his estranged son.  Spiritual – Show that he’s a competent agent (though this is very weakly portrayed)

Who’s trying to stop him? – Forces within the CIA who don’t believe in his plan and don’t provide enough support for it once it’s in play, as well as the various factions in Iran.

What happens if he fails? – He and the embassy workers will “die badly.”


Orphan – Mendez is cut off from his wife and son, and is clearly a bit of an outcast in the CIA.

Wanderer – Mendez finally gets support for his plan and proceeds to assemble the Hollywood ‘creative’ team he’ll need as well as work out the details of getting the hostages out of Iran.

Warrior – Mendez arrives in Iran and has to keep the ruse going that he is truly producing a movie while also not arousing suspicion.  In the meantime, the Iranian forces are getting closer and closer to discovering the truth about the embassy workers.

Martyr – Mendez absolutely refuses to leave the embassy workers behind, even when told to do so by his CIA boss.  He risks his own life to get them out safely.


Argo does most things right, yet somehow still feels like it comes up a short.  As a comfortable North American my nightmare fuel (and I’d venture it’s not limited to North Americans) is being caught and held  by fundamentalists.  The images of Daniel Pearl, films like Not Without My Daughter, books such as “Infidel,” and even newspaper accounts of hikers straying too far in one direction instead of the other, have all cemented in our minds the potential horror of being on the wrong side of particular borders.  Rightly or wrongly, these fears have become part of the Western collective consciousness.

Because of this, I would have expected Argo to be a more tense experience.  Without giving anything away, the movie certainly ratchets up the tension in the final minutes however the preceding events only have a scattershot clench-factor.  Interestingly, the actual experience of the embassy ‘houseguests’ fleeing the country is reported to have been a very smooth operation which would have made for an even less tense dramatic retelling.  I’ve even heard some criticism of the film for inventing a completely fabricated skin-of-their-teeth moment at the climax.

The power of Argo is therefore neither in the accurate depiction of real events or in the dramatic license taken, but in the sheer audacity of the plan itself which is fully and undeniably true.  Go into revolutionary Iran with a crazy scheme to rescue American citizens by pretending to be making an elaborate science fiction movie?   That’s a story so good it has to be true.

– Jeffrey Alan Schechter


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