Freshly minted director extraordinaire, Ben Affleck’s new vehicle Argo is an amazing true account (well, true by Hollywood standards) about a rescue mission led by the CIA’s former head of the Disguise Section and current—at the time—chief of the CIA’s Graphics and Authentication Division, Tony Mendez.
Mendez (Affleck) was tasked at the time with extracting a group of American citizens who had become trapped inside a hostile Tehran after the US embassy was overrun by anti-us militants. It was November 4, 1979: the beginning of the Iran hostage crisis and the CIA was in a whirlwind of chaos as to how to retrieve their own.
Tony Mendez was a real-life Mission Impossible agent whose specialty was disguising people to extract them from dangerous situations. An expert in clandestine operations, Tony once transformed a black CIA officer and an Asian diplomat into white businessmen in order to sneak them into the capital of Laos. He even used inflatable mannequins, called “jack-in-the-boxes”, to throw off KGB tails who still believed the doppelgängers to be their targets, while he and his agents would escape their trailing efforts.
The group of Americans was running out of places to hide in Tehran, so a call was placed to the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor, who split the group between his own residence and another secure (barely) home in the area. (This act of kindness from the Canadians is why the mission would eventually become known as the Canadian Caper. In actuality, this was an American-led CIA mission that President Carter denied having involvement in.)
Time wasn’t on the Americans’ side, though, as the militants were ripping through the U.S. embassy, extracting the names and information on the American workers in order to secure their identifications, even going so far as reassembling shredded U.S. documents which would later be published by the Iranian government as: Documents From the US Espionage Den. *read below
After the CIA and Mendez ran through a gamut of strategies to get their 6 citizens out, Mendez finally came up with a plan just crazy enough to work: he’d turn himself into an Irish film producer who’d take a production crew to Iran to do location scouting on a film entitled Argo, only the film wasn’t real, the mission to extract the hostages was.
Mendez recruited former collaborator and Oscar-winning makeup special effects wizard, John Chambers (Planet of the Apes), to help him create a production company in the Columbia Studios lot in Hollywood. Full page ads were printed in major Hollywood dirt-sheets, a script was created, movie posters posted, and all the propaganda for the film, which would never actually be filmed, was created and distributed just like it would for any other Hollywood outing.
On January 25, 1980, Mendez sneaked his way into Iran to begin the mission that maybe one of the greatest clandestine extractions our government has, or will, ever see.
Being that I’m not in the business of spoiling films—you can wait to see the film for that or read the fantastic Wired article that Affleck based his film on—I’ll leave you with this: go see this film.
If anything, go see it just for the story, but by the looks of the trailer and early reviews, it’ll gain critical and commercial success and most certainly propel Affleck into the upper echelon of filmmakers.
With Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic coming soon, Affleck will have tough competition during this awards season, but with Hollywood falling back in love with the former Mr. Lopez, his chances of filling his mantle with a few more golden men is looking good.