is the title of a 2012
drama/thriller film directed by Ben Affleck
. It is a historical dramatization - I choose to assume that means 'sexed up retelling of things that actually happened' - of events which took place in 1979 during the Iran Hostage Crisis
The history is better told elsewhere - read Noung's excellent node on the Iranian Revolution for context - but a quick summary is probably necessary. In 1953 the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was deposed by a coup d'etat. He returned to power with the assistance of American and British intelligence agencies, and ruled Iran with the backing of the U.S. and its allies for the next twenty-five years. To retain power, he created the SAVAK, a secret police force which did pretty much what all secret police forces with no accountability end up doing. He exiled the most powerful Islamic clergy and pushed 'Westernization' on the country. In late 1978, his rule was finally challenged by a wide alliance of factions, and the ayatollah Khomeini called from exile for him to abdicate. As he had managed to lose the support of nearly every other domestic group, he fled Iran on January 16, 1979. Khomeini returned to Iran in February.
In October, unable to find asylum elsewhere, Pahlavi was allowed to enter the United States by the Carter Administration. Various groups in Iran called for the Shah's extradition back to Iran to face a long list of charges. The United States, with every other allied 'strongman' watching carefully to see how the U.S. would decide, refused to extradite him.
As November 1979 started, increasingly bitter rallies were being held outside the U.S. Embassy in Iran, which was regularly denounced as a 'Spy Den.' The Shah's first return to power in 1953, with the backing of the U.S., was bitterly recalled. On November 4th, a crowd broke into the U.S. Embassy and took everyone inside hostage. As the takeover occurred, however, six American embassy employees were able to escape to the street. They found refuge in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador, who concealed them.
The U.S. was caught unaware by the embassy seizure, and the Central Intelligence Agency was tasked with finding a way to retrieve ('exfiltrate') the six Americans before they were caught outside the Embassy. Tensions were running very high. CIA operative Tony Mendez, an exfiltration specialist, came up with an audacious plan - to create a fake Canadian film production company, with a very public plan to film a high-budget movie, and to enter Iran as a Canadian location scout looking for settings in which to film. He would bring with him cover identities for the six stranded Americans which showed them to be members of the Canadian film crew, brief and rehearse them, and fly with them out of Iran under these Canadian passports.
Argo was the name of the science fiction epic which was to be the 'high budget Star Wars ripoff' film for which they would purportedly be scouting.
The movie is a dramatization based on recent published accounts of the operation. Wired Magazine wrote a story on the operation, which was dubbed 'The Canadian Caper', in 2007. Tony Mendez published a more detailed account in 2012, and both were used as sources for the film.
Ben Affleck directs and stars as Tony Mendez. The film is a tight thriller; the movie opens with a brief recap of the history given above, and then immediately moves to the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran watching as the mobs outside begin storming the embassy. The six escapees are in a separate building and escape to the streets. They eventually are sheltered by the Canadian Ambassador in his residence, and the CIA begins to plan a means for retrieving them covertly.
It did well critically, accruing both somber testimonials and a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It made over $230 million worldwide, against a budget of $44.5 million. Although Affleck was not nominated for a Best Director Oscar (leading some to proclaim that he was robbed, including other nominees) the film was nominated for seven Academy awards. It won three of those: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and best Film Editing.
All told, an enjoyable thriller. It is reported that sales of bootleg DVDs of this film inside Iran were brisk, indicating dissatisfaction with official government statements and positions on both the film and the events it purports to portray. Who knows?