‘Argo’: The Movie vs. The True Story

Published 1 year ago by , Updated February 25th, 2013 at 3:07 pm,

Box Office Oct 14 Argo Argo: The Movie vs. The True Story

Ron Howard’s Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind unfolds as a psycho-thriller, mental-illness melodrama, and touching romance (depending on the scene), but fits into a peg hole easier than the unpredictable story behind it. While watching Ben Affleck’s historical drama-thriller Argo, I had the feeling it was taking similar liberties so as to likewise create (as Screen Rant‘s Kofi Outlaw put in his review) “worthwhile genre entertainment (no more, no less).”

That hunch turned out to be correct, but it raises the question: Would a ‘facts-only’ version of Argo have made for better or weaker entertainment – not to mention more (or less) relevant cultural resonance? Well, that’s what we’re here to investigate.

Argo, like Beautiful Mind, plays out as a clever mix of genre formulas. The opening minutes feel lifted from a documentary about the 1970s Iranian Revolution; grainy photography from Rodrigo Prieto allows stock footage to blend seamlessly with the actual film. Affleck’s direction and Chris Terrio’s script allows the film to smoothly shift from white-knuckle thriller to CIA socio-political drama, Hollywood satire, and back to high-tension yarn during the third act. In order to reach the sweaty-palm climax, though, a fair amount of exaggeration takes place.

In David Haglund’s article for Slate, it’s pointed out that virtually all the obstacles Argo throws at Affleck’s CIA agent Tony Mendez and the six endangered American embassy escapees during the third act were, in fact, made up. The reason things went so much smoother in real-life? It turns out Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (played by Victor Garber) and a fellow embassy employee John Sheardown – who does not appear in the film – were more involved with the rescue effort than the movie suggests. The two not only helped scout out the Iran airport in advance, but also purchased the Americans’ tickets, coached them in having a Canadian accent, and were even responsible for setting the rescue plan in motion to begin with.

Christipher Dunham Clea Du Vall Tate Donovan Rory Cochrane Kerry Bishe and Scott McNairy in Argo Argo: The Movie vs. The True Story

A postscript during the film’s end titles – citing the Argo incident as a model of international cooperation – makes much more sense when you keep those facts in mind. Moreover, it calls attention to how the film could have been something quite different; instead of juxtaposing Mendez’ efforts in putting together the titular fake movie with scenes alluding to the metaphorical noose tightening around the six Americans’ collective necks (as the Iranian revolutionaries slowly became aware of their presence), the film could have jumped back and forth between the Canadians and Mendez in action. Eventually, the plot threads could come together like pieces to a puzzle, thus illustrating the beneficial nature of complimentary approaches to a large-scale problem (an important lesson for today, given the current political climate).

Now, would such a film have been nearly as engaging and fun to watch as Argo? To be honest, probably not. However, it might have allowed Affleck and Terrio to skip on some of the cliches – like turning Mendez into a workaholic with a messy personal life, or featuring stereotypical Iranian soldiers who do little more than run around and act angry. We could have followed multiple people (not just a single protagonist) as they discover the idiosyncrasies of both Hollywood folk and Iranian personnel, then deduce how to use them to their advantage, so as to pull off such a so-crazy-it’s-brilliant rescue operation. It might have been equally smart and funny at examining two very different cultures (as Argo manages to do when it concerns people in the movie business) –  but again, that would have lowered the suspense factor.

What’s interesting is that Argo also had potential to offer a different perspective on the filmmaking process, seeing how (in real life) colorful personalities such as Ray Bradbury, Jack Kirby, and Buckminster Fuller were among those recruited to help the titular script (which was actually based on a novel by Roger Zelazny, titled Lord of Light) seem legit. Instead, the film drops most of those people from the story in favor of fictional producer Lester Siegel (played by Alan Arkin) who embodies both the admirable and terrible traits that most people associate with Hollywood power players.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin in Argo Argo: The Movie vs. The True Story

However, at the end of the day, sticking closer to the facts might have resulted in an Argo movie that’s less accessible and watchable for your average moviegoer; though, on the hand, also one more thoughtful and even-handed than your average cinematic sermon from Hollywood. The path Affleck took played to his strengths as a storyteller, more so than a different strategy would have. Maybe somewhere down the road, as Affleck continues to gain confidence (not to mention, credibility) as a director, he will strive to break further away from convention than he has so far. That’s all the more feasible, assuming he continues to develop at the same pace as he has with his first three films.

Argo is currently playing in theaters (for further breakdown of the film, check out the latest episode of the SR Underground Podcast).

Should 'Argo' Have Stuck Closer to the Facts?

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Source: Slate

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  1. I think as a important part of documentary it must be mentioned Jimmy Carter was who agreed for taking place revolution in Iran as 5 country gathered in GUADELOUPE CONFERENCE 1979 and he was a conductor for paying 150 millions $ cash via Gaddafi(?????) to protestors against Shah.
    I also would be surprised if in this story as a true !!! story pay to subject : OCTOBER SURPRISE as the sweetest part of story and so I’m so exiting to know how think this HEROES about the matter?
    In fact ,I think U.S. have had a cookie that is backed by himself before as well as another stories in Afghanistan and Iraq against Al-Qaeda party.
    Good Heroes.

    • What?!?

    • All of you “movie critics” need to lighten up. Geeze! It’s not a documentary, it’s a Hollywood film. It’s not intended to disrespect the Canadians or glorify the Americans. And by the way, Affleck was the director NOT the script writer. Take a lesson in filmmaking 101 and direct a feature that’s worth a darn before you go on and on with your nit picking. Jesus! As a director, I thought Affleck did a supurb job. The film was very reminiscent of that particular time period right down to the most minute details and personally I stayed on the edgde of my seat right up until the end. THAT’S why he did a fantqstic job as a DIRECTOR. Want to dispute the facts? Take it up with the script writer…BTW, the Swedes were involved in the rescue mission but you don’t hear anyone talking about how shameful it was that they were left out OF A STORY BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS. Geeze! I feel like some of you guys would argue over a damn pickle if it was the topic of conversation!

      • The problem is… Idiocracy… I actually have spoken to people who believe ARGO “IS” historically correct… they are seeing the concept of “based on actual events” as the same as what you call Documentary. It isn’t that movies aren’t to be entertaining, it is that our society believes more in it’s entertainment than it’s history. In other words, it doesn’t matter who was there or not, just how much it entertains me and am I willing to pay for it. SAD!

        • I totally agree- it should have been presented as a story partially based on some historical events…
          As brutal dictator as Shaw was his removal from power triggered an avalanche of destruction and dis stabilization in the region…just like everything our government chooses to get involved in…at a great costs of human life and funds…
          And we then wonder why USA is hated? Mind your own business, we have plenty of problems in our country incidentally created by our government as well!!!

          • What the……..

      • There is a lot of truth to this idea. Instead of hating and hurting one another, let’s find the reality. My father is gone now and I believe in this. When I was a small child, my dog was named Argo…my father shot him in the head and told me that my gov’t was evil, but that eventually I would understand. I have never understood anything he said to me. I have a lot to say about my childhood, however.

    • ….we’ll never know the truth…even when the lies comeback to haunt… u get another version of the same … it is the winner that writes the story.

    • It would be nice if your post was actually written in Coherent English .

    • Dude read back to yourself what you type…

  2. Just finished watching Argo. The cliches and “near misses” at the end ruined it for me.

  3. The movie is quite entertaining in spite of its historic liberties depicting an actual event. However, it appears to me that the talent of a director/producer/screen writer should be measured more by how they can make a factual story interesting and entertaining, rather than making entertaining movies that loosely, if at all, follow the facts on which they are allegedly based.

  4. this movie shined light on the hostage crisis yet it was still entertaining. i don’t mind that it wasn’t all factual because it was entertaining which is why i rented it. if i want the facts then I’ll look them up online like i am right now. either way if this film wasn’t made then I’d have no idea any of that happened..

    • When “entertainment” trumps facts, then we have reached the point of a dummied down America. Sadly Argo only perpetuates myths and stereotypes to an unsuspecting audience. We deserve better than this.

      • Exactly… and people are now building their ideas on what entertainment tells them to believe.

  5. It was a movie, not a documentary. I thought it was awesome, on the edge of my seat the whole way through. One of the best movies i’ve seen lately, better than remakes of remakes that come out now.

    • It was a movie misrepresenting the facts whether it was a documentary or not. Sadly, many gullible people will take away the wrong historical message because the film is predicated upon the wrong historical facts. When film makers stoop to the lowest common denominator to make a buck, we should not be praising them but calling them out. Argo is a disgrace.

      • Couldnt agree more.

    • Chris is hitting the nail on the head again, wish people would be on the edge of their seat with real history, maybe movies like these should have a label like cigarettes… nothing contained here in has anything to do with reality, only entertainment, go read a book.

  6. Every country puts their own spin/view on things, I lived abroad for 10 years and travelled extensively. I’m American and I did not see this ARGO as depicting America as saving the day. It was very clear that at the time the Canadians were given the credit and it was a joint operation. If anything, when they called Menedez to abandon the mission, I thought about how shocking it was that the US government was portrayed as only wanting to save the hostages for the publicity and was willing to let the escapees die, just to save face. The film portrayed the Canadians as very helpful and the Iranian maid (who may or may not have been a real person) as the key to the whole thing. If you are SO upset with Ben Affleck, perhaps you should write your own screen play and approach a Canadian production company. No one is forcing you to watch US movies. Hollywood is in the business of making money, don’t expect anything else.

    • Rinnie, just because every country “puts their spin on things,” doesn’t excuse the gross historical inaccuracies and fabrications spun from “Argo.” Whether you saw America as saving the day or not is certainly not the issue. The hollywoodization of political history is. When you re-shape a historical narrative by negating documented truths, you do a disservice to the industry, history and the public. Moreover, I don’t have to write my own screen play and have it produced in Canada, as you so misguidedly suggest, to correct the egregious errors in this film. It would be far more prudent and expedient had Mr. Aflek educated himself, and subsequently his audience, prior to producing this sham. You are right about one thing, Hollywood is solely in the business of making money. Hence the making of the film making industry in a capitalistic environment. It distorts realty beyond recognition in order to perpetuate itself. It mirrors itself in that the industry is a celluloid illusion predicated upon nothing. It gratuitously rewards itself further creating a visage of legitimacy even though its product is illegitimate. You may not expect anything else, but those of us who care about film, history and the truth sure do.

  7. I am an Iranian and I just saw the movie. The accent of Iranian people was not clear enough and in some parts they say non-sense, nothing, just some meaning-less words. Apart from these mistakes, all other parts are good and about the story, actually I heard from my parents and old people about events happened those days and I should say that the crazy actions of people in the movie must be true. For a long time, people suffered from high social status of Americans which had been set by Shah and Savak, so it was expected from illegible people of that time to act violently against foreign people especially Americans.
    Overall, I should thank Affleck and Clooney for the movie they created about my country and I hope that the US embassy families understand the situation and forgive our people.
    Right now, we the people of Iran suffer from our religious leaders (who seeking war) and I hope that we will see freedom and be able to love all the people of the world and be loved by them.

    Rohola

    • I was some what touched by your comment. The fact that you took the time to apologize for something that happened so many years before your time was touching. I dont think we take the time to try and understand your people and why things happen the way they do. Best of luck to you!
      Signed a fellow brown girl

  8. That was both exciting in addition as insightful!
    Thanks for sharing your views with us.

  9. The film should not have lied when it stated early on that the British rejected them. In fact it was the British who rescued them, hid them and then arranged for them to get to the Canadian Embassy.
    With so many other inaccuracies the film ought to have a ‘loosely based on events in Iran’ caveat shown at the beginning and ‘Do not quote this film in any factual discussion; keep it to your fantasy and ripping yarns discussions’.

    • Were you there to know the British helped?? Smh No one truly knows unless they were actually there. Not what a reporter said, not what tall tales were told but actual someone who was there.

      • It’s a matter of record the British put them up, confirmed by British diplomats who were there at the time. Just google it. The British embassy was considered too much of an obvious target for the Iranian security forces so they were moved. II think Afflexk was trying to raise the dramatic tension by downplaying the roles of Canada, Britain etc. Hey ho

        • Seriously Brandi, next you will say Schindler didn’t do anything amazing… think before you speak, or are you part of revisionist history. Historical record shows what the Brits and the Canadians did, Afleck took your money so you could be entertained.

  10. Argo is a deeply disturbing picture not because of its subject matter, but because of its complete disregard for historical accuracy. It’s attempt to “hollywoodize” a profound political moment by having police cars chase 747′s or the adoring wife provide the obligatory embrace as American flag waves in the background indicates Aflek is placating the most gratuitous of audiences. The role of Canada, which in reality created and directed the rescue operation, has been narrated out of the story. Moreover, the role of Lester is a complete fabrication, designed to flaunt Arkin’s acting chops rather than elucidate upon historical truth. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Argo is the stereotypical portrayal of the Iranian people. When we let Hollywood shape our worldview by narrating myths into reality, we do a disservice to the industry, those we demonize and ultimately ourselves. Argo may be big on drama and action, but it is a small minded film perpetuating a small mindedness. The historical facts surrounding the rescue are far more compelling that what Aflek has contrived. It’s a shame Hollywood felt the need to cheapen history in order to make a buck.

    • Based: have as the foundation for (something); use as a point from which (something) can develop.

      Know the actual definition, don’t make one up in your head.

      Argo is BASED on a true story. The actual historical events is a starting point (foundation)for which the movie was directed. Stop being a radical ignorant preacher Chris, movies are meant to entertain. That’s why there’s AWARDS for movies, and Argo has won several awards. Most people wouldn’t even know about this event without the movie. So why can’t you just appreciate that people (including myself) now know at least a fraction of the history that happened? (I looked it up after watching it so I know the historical accuracy)

      So once again, it’s BASED on a true story, it didn’t start out saying “From Actual Events”

      I can only imagine what you’d have to say about The Blair Witch Project if Argo bugs you this much.

  11. Seriously Chris, it was a movie. It was a damn good movie and at no stage do i remember reading the words this movie is factual. I get the fact you didnt like it because it wasnt fact, but just a suggestion, lighten up mate life is too short to be so hung up about a movie that was “based on fact”. Remember at no point did Afflect make the claim the movie was FACTUAL.

    • Dave, so you would agree to movies having disclaimers that read… “this is all made up,” instead of “based on actual events?” The second leads people to believe that what they are about to see actually has credibility.

  12. A car with rebels driving same speed as Boeing 747 on take off … at approx 180-210 Miles per hour …. classic. Such B.S.

  13. I liked the movie, but I do have a problem with the statement in the beginning that Argo is “based on a true story.” What I, as the average film-watcher, understand is that the movie is historically accurate – but it’s not. I don’t have a problem with the changes that the director and screenwriter chose to make, but they should at least say that it’s not all true.

    • Chris is right in every aspects. As long as the movie is prefaced with a disclaimer that there are distortion of facts I will gladly accept this movie.

    • Based: have as the foundation for (something); use as a point from which (something) can develop.

      Know the actual definition, don’t make one up in your head.

      Argo is BASED on a true story. The actual historical events is a starting point (foundation)for which the movie was directed. Stop being a radical ignorant preacher Chris, movies are meant to entertain. That’s why there’s AWARDS for movies, and Argo has won several awards. Most people wouldn’t even know about this event without the movie. So why can’t you just appreciate that people (including myself) now know at least a fraction of the history that happened? (I looked it up after watching it so I know the historical accuracy)

      So once again, it’s BASED on a true story, it didn’t start out saying “From Actual Events”

      I can only imagine what you’d have to say about The Blair Witch Project if Argo bugs you this much.

  14. What’s actually meant by the third act? Which scenes/events?

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  16. Argo could have and should have been a much better movie. To change the facts of such specific matter of an event like that is a travesty an an injustice to everyone who was involved historically and anyone who watched the movie currently. Since I am a history major things like this have a way of getting under my skin… the fact is this its bad enough that people in America really have no clue about what thier government does around the world and the fact that they knowingly want to feed bad information to the public is bad enough already, Iran was a great ally to the US at the time and America totally ***ked them over, turning thier back on the shah and backing SADDAM the so called devil in a 8yr war when Saddam used chemical weapons against us. Like the fact that they supported Bin Laden in the past as well… if these two were so bad what does that say about the government that backed them? I think its terrible that this great nation is truly dumbing down its own people and they get away with it… The wars we have recently gone to the lives lost on both sides and the stories they tell to hide the truth are egregious (that means shocking). It really is a shame that this is entertainment… make another movie about another fake genius from Boston Affleck it would have better suited you.

  17. Nice ending, except the Persians let the embassy personnel go only because newly elected President Reagan referred to them as “prisoners of war”, and it was during Reagan’s inaugural speech (would have made movie MUCH better), that the plane left Persian airspace. Mahmud Imanutjob was one of the “students” that invaded the US Embassy, which was an act of war, and still is. With the inexperienced, naïve, imbecile running things now, Benghazi will look like a picnic when our next embassy in a muslim country is invaded and our fellow Americans taken prisoner or killed. The secret police in Iran are no different and political prisoners see little difference between the Savak and the thugs torturing the people there now.

  18. Hollywood “The holly wood was a favourite source of magic wands..” it’s all magic and fake so we shouldn’t be too upset. Where the facts get distorted is when NBC and CNN and the like have interviews with Tony Mendez calling him the REAL hero and the TRUE or REAL story as depicted in the movie Argo… so now you have ‘legitimate media’ (I use those words loosely) praising Tony and showing scenes while talking about it with him! If they said wow what a great movie piece of fiction and Tony we understand some of it my be true then it would not leave such a bad taste. As a Canadian I actually thought the movie as fiction was great. Then I hear Ken Taylor and President Jimmy Carter say (even now) 90% was Canada and they took 90% of the risk and in fact had it not been for a Canadian looking over the passport and reading Farsi and seeing passports were dated wrong (forged by the US) the whole thing might have been a tragedy I still feel as proud as the rest of our Country did then. But of course Oscar would never go to a tale of the bumbling of passports and a 1 and 1/2 day operation by CIA only. So I don’t blame Affleck or anyone in Hollywood who I hold accountable as making this more then fiction and passing it off as truth and historically accurate is the other fiction tale tellers the main stream media. Good movie though regardless.

  19. This movie is so far from the truth that it’s very upsetting. I watched the bio of the real people and what really happened. It was the Canadians that did everything and risked war to protect the Americans. The Americans choose to protect a dying Iranian instead of 50 of their own people. It was the Canadians that did it all and risked war and even produced illegal passports. The Canadians got no thanks.

  20. I understand that Hollywood must be granted artistic licence when creating a movie, but I fear many people (especially in America) will interpret the story as historical fact rather than a work of fiction BASED on a true story.

    Many Americans believe (and therefore consider it to be historical fact) that during World War II the United States were responsible for the capture of the German Enigma cipher after another Academy Award winning film (U571) depicted this to be the case. The truth (as history scholars will inform you) is that it was the British Navy and nothing to do with the Americans at all…however from Hollywood’s point of view the story is not marketable in its true context and so they (legitimately in my opinion) ‘changed history’.

    So in conclusion, it is fine for films like Argo to be liberal with the truth as long as they are clear in advising the audience that it is a work of fiction loosely based on a true story and that it has been embellished for entertainment purposes!

    • These things happen. Much like most Brits will swear up and down that they invented the internet because they don’t know the difference between “Internet” and “World Wide Web”.

  21. I Loved the movie- have watched almost as many times as “Godfather”- BEn Aflect is amazing as an actor, Director- & Husband- yep & especially Father- I really ove his genuine portray of any movie- (can’t spell, dsylexia, sorry). But Whoever has ut this movie down for any reason- is washed up reporting dependent upon a paycheck by the players who pay out What they want said- especially to discredit in any way what they have Never been able to accomplish- The fact is, Tony Mendez did a movie and risked his life to save lives- How many would be willing ?? Geez, look at some of the actors personal lives and what they suffered- at the hands of “somewhat Maccarthyism which was caried over from that era- I love this country- and this movie only validates what it is really stands for in courage- So perhaps, the soryline of one character was compounded into one person of 2 or 3 ppeople- big deal- It happened, its true- They got out and than you Ben Aflect for fighting to get it done and a job well done- I am an old women, but perhaps have a little wisdom with very different political views then the right- But what was accomplished in that film, by Mr. Mendez and our CIA is so good to b e able to see in a movie- LA times, enjoy you paycheck and constant degrading of anything that is good and yes, errors are made- but who among you would have that kind of courage- please- sorry, Lynn Lincoln

    • I Loved the movie- have watched almost as many times as “Godfather”- BEn Aflect is amazing as an actor, Director- & Husband- yep & especially Father- I really ove his genuine portray of any movie- (can’t spell, dsylexia, sorry). But Whoever has ut this movie down for any reason- is washed up reporting dependent upon a paycheck by the players who pay out What they want said- especially to discredit in any way what they have Never been able to accomplish- The fact is, Tony Mendez did a movie and risked his life to save lives- How many would be willing ?? Geez, look at some of the actors personal lives and what they suffered- at the hands of “somewhat Maccarthyism which was caried over from that era- I love this country- and this movie only validates what it is really stands for in courage- So perhaps, the soryline of one character was compounded into one person of 2 or 3 ppeople- big deal- It happened, its true- They got out and than you Ben Aflect for fighting to get it done and a job well done- I am an old women, but perhaps have a little wisdom with very different political views then the Left- But what was accomplished in that film, by Mr. Mendez and our CIA is so good to b e able to see in a movie- LA times, enjoy you paycheck and constant degrading of anything that is good and yes, errors are made- but who among you would have that kind of courage- please- sorry, Lynn Lincoln

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