(2012) During the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran by militant students, inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, as American personnel attempt to shred, burn, and otherwise destroy classified documents and records, six foreign-service employees slip out a back exit, making their way to the residence of the Canadian ambassador. In Washington, DC, President Jimmy Carter's chief of staff Hamilton Jordan (Kyle Chandler) receives word of the crisis in Tehran.
While 52 American hostages are being held in the embassy, 69 days after the Iranians overran and occupied the building on Nov 4th, the Iranians remain unaware that six had escaped - Robert Anders (Tate Donovan), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), Mark (Christopher Denham) and Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), and Joe (Scoot McNairy) and Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishé) - and are hiding out with Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) and his wife Pat.
Meanwhile at Foggy Bottom, heads of the State Department brainstorm ideas for extracting them from Tehran before they're discovered. After sitting in on the session, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), while talking on the phone with his young son (the parents are separated) who's watching Planet of the Apes on TV, conceives a concept of using the ruse of a Canadian film crew's scouting an exotic location in Iran for a sci-fi film.
He meets in Hollywood with his pal John Chambers (John Goodman), a makeup artist for movies, to flesh out the preposterous plot of making a fake film as a cover story to fool the Iranians long enough to get the six Americans onto a flight and out of the country; all very hush-hush, Chambers introduces Tony to producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), who says: "We're gonna need a script." An otherwise neglected screenplay, Argo supplies the story of a science-fantasy adventure set in the Middle East.
Affleck directed this intense thriller, critical episodes happening moment-by-moment with just-in-time outcomes, based on actual events (adapted screenplay by Chris Terrio) related in "Canadian Caper," a 2007 article by Joshua Bearman. For decades. "Nobody can know about it"; if you want applause, says Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) join a circus.
Recalling how the press was duped into discounting rumors of Rock Hudson's homosexuality three decades earlier, Chambers recommends letting the media sell Mendez's big lie.
In need of permission from the State Dept to carry out the mission, Mendez, accompanied by his CIA superior O'Donnell, pitches the scheme: "There are only bad options. It's about finding the best one." Sec of State Cyrus Vance skeptically questions: "You don't have a better bad idea than this?" O'Donnell concurs: "It's the best bad idea we have, sir."
As Iranians piece together shredded photographs, seeking missing personnel from the embassy, and the Taylors suspect their Iranian housekeeper Sahar may have figured out who the houseguests really are, Tony, taking the identity of co-producer Kevin Harkins with Studio 6, flies to Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain a visa at the Iranian consulate to enter Tehran where he meets with an official: "You come to us at a complicated time."
At the Canadian residence Tony explains the plan to the anxious, dubious Americans, handing them their roles (requiring prompt memorization) in a theatre of the absurd with new identities as director, cameraman, location manager, associate producer, production designer, and screenwriter. "This is what I do," Tony tells the fearful, distrustful six: "I get people out, and I've never left anyone behind." Having no other alternative, Joe hesitantly admits: "So crazy it might actually work."
But just as Mendez is about to attempt their exit to the airport, O'Donnell contacts him ("What we are is required to follow orders"), calling off the operation (too politically risky if caught with CIA involvement) with a new plan for a military rescue of the hostages and these foreign-service people together with helicopters.
After spending the night regarding the situation critically, both his career and his life on the line, Tony abruptly communicates to Jack his disassociation with the direct order: "Somebody is responsible.… I'm taking them through." The end credits match photographs of actual faces and incidents with actors and scenes from the movie along with comments on the covert operation from Jimmy Carter.
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