As I waited in a long line Wednesday morning at the Toronto International Film Festival to see Argo, the much-anticipated dramatization of a 1980 rescue attempt of six Americans from the Canadian embassy in Tehran, I pored over an armful of newspapers, each chronicling the deadly consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya.
The irony was overwhelming. Here I was about to watch a movie about something that took place three decades ago, yet the subject matter was almost too contemporary to fathom. Additionally, the role of Canada in the 1980 rescue attempt was already the talk of Toronto. I met four people in line who knew Ken Taylor personally. Taylor was the Canadian ambassador to Iran who risked his life to give safe haven to the six Americans when Iranian fundamentalists stormed the U.S. embassy.
I must admit to being extremely emotional while watching Argo. For at least half the film, my heart was in my throat and I found myself breathing very hard. Hours later, I concluded that the brilliance of the movie was the cause, not the day's headlines. Simply put, Argo is a fabulous film, one of the very best that I've seen in a long time, and it is hands-down the movie to beat for Best Picture at next year's Academy Awards.
If you think you know the story of the rescue of the Americans, think again. This is a rarely told story that is nearly impossible to believe, but due to declassification of Central Intelligence Agency files, Affleck has directed the screenplay of the year.
Argo was the name given to a faux-Hollywood production to provide cover to a CIA agent (Affleck) to come into Iran in search of shooting locations for his film. The plan was to sneak the Americans out as assistants to the film. But the U.S. government took exhaustive steps to con the Iranians, including employing two Hollywood professionals (Alan Arkin and John Goodman in priceless performances) and a shooting script for what would have been a Star Wars-type film.
Affleck takes great care to include some humor through the film. (Thank God, I don't think I could have held my breath any longer than I did.)
Consider this exchange between the characters portrayed by Arkin and Goodman:
"Oh, well, history begins as farce and ends as tragedy."
"I think you have that backwards. It begins as tragedy and ends as farce."
"Really? Who said that?"
"It was Marx."
"Groucho said that?"
The laughs were much appreciated. The tension throughout the film was palpable. Even though I knew exactly how this story would end, I was genuinely nervous that everything would go wrong.
As Argo concluded and the lights came up, audience members cheered with several people shouting "Bravo." I was one of them.