HOLLYWOOD—”Argo,” which won best picture Oscar Sunday (Monday in Manila), tells the true story of a CIA operation to spirit six US hostages out of Iran—even if it takes liberties with history, by its makers’ own admission.
The movie, directed and starring Ben Affleck, became the surprise frontrunner for the top statuette after sweeping a string of top prizes in Hollywood’s annual awards season, which wrapped up with the Oscars.
Affleck racked up awards from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Producers Guild of America (PGA) in the weeks before Sunday’s Academy Awards show.
“I was here 15 years ago or something, and, you know, I had no idea what I was doing,” Affleck said, referring to his 1998 Oscar win with Matt Damon for best original screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.”
“I never thought that I would be back here.”
“Argo” recounts the long-classified CIA plot to extract the diplomats by pretending that they are part of a Hollywood film crew scouting for locations for a science fiction flick.
But it openly takes liberties with the facts. In a white-knuckle climax, for example, Iranian guards speed along a runway next to a plane carrying the escaping diplomats, threatening to stop it from taking off. That didn’t happen.
Canada’s role in giving refuge to the diplomats in Tehran, and securing their safe passage out of Iran, is significantly underplayed. The mission is seen as largely the work of CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Affleck.
In the film, they are given refuge by the Canadian ambassador to Tehran after escaping through a back exit as the US embassy was stormed by Islamist students, who went on to hold over 50 Americans hostage for more than a year.
Mendez is shown flying in, giving the diplomats their false identities, and leading them through a series of close shaves to freedom.
These include a made-up scene in a Tehran market where they are surrounded by an angry mob but just escape with their lives, as well as a fake tense scene at the airport, and the fictional runway chase.
They are also shown holed up at the residence of the Canadian ambassador to Tehran, Ken Taylor. In reality they were split into two groups—one with Taylor and the other with another Canadian diplomat.
Days after Affleck’s film won the best film Golden Globe last month, Tehran announced that it was making its own movie about the American hostage drama during the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“Argo” might have won the top Oscar, as well as awards for best adapted screenplay and best film editing, but Affleck was left off the shortlist for best director, in what was widely seen as a snub to the actor-turned-filmmaker.