On November 4, 1979 an angry Iranian mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 66 staff members hostage. (This established a precedent for Islamic mobs to attack American embassies and consulates whenever they are ticked off at the United States for any reason.) In this case however the Iranian government ended up supporting the attack and held the hostages for 444 days.
In the confusion of the attack 6 American staffers slipped out of a side door and eventually were offered refuge by the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) who hid them in his home a great personal risk. The problem was how to get them out of the country when the streets and airports were full of Iranian security officers and fanatical Revolutionary Guardsmen.
After considering and rejecting several more mundane alternatives the CIA came up with a crazy-sounding scheme to give the 6 refugees false identities as Canadian filmmakers scouting for locations to shoot a cheesy science fiction movie called Argo. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA disguise and exfiltration specialist, was given the task of disguising himself as a cheesy sci-fi producer, entering Iran, meeting with the refugees, coaching them on their fake identities and escorting them out.
Ben Affleck has the central role in this movie but John Goodman is hilarious in a smaller role as John Chambers, a Hollywood makeup expert who played a central role in establishing the cover story: setting up a fake production company, buying the rights to a script and planting stories about the production in the press.
Though the story told here is basically true, this is not a documentary. The real story had a lot of genuine tension and danger but was somewhat lacking in the kind of visually exciting scenes that an action thriller requires. Thus the screenwriters have added a number of scenes without which the movie would have been half as long and a lot less exciting. In my opinion these go a bit too far. If you find yourself thinking “this would never have worked out it real life,” well you’re probably right.
Still this is less over-the-top than most action movies. It is very entertaining and probably more topical than the producers originally intended.