I just saw the movie Argo and I feel like I should say something about it because I wrote about it several years before it was made. Well, not exactly. But I wrote a piece on Criminal Brief called A Real-Life Genuine Phony Hollywood Spy Story,which was about the bizarre true event that served as a basis for Argo. If you aren't familiar with it here's the one-sentence synopsis: during the Iranian hostage crisis the CIA got six hostages out by pretending they were a Canadian film crew.
So here's my review: it's a good movie. You'll like it. But you'll like it better if you don't read my earlier piece first, because the more you know about what really happened the more likely you are to be annoyed by the parts the movie gins up. Apparently a spy sneaking into an insane theocracy to slip out six civilians, knowing that a single mistake could get them all beheaded was not suspenseful enough for Hollywood without a few added gimmicks. Sigh.
Honestly what annoyed me most was not the lies they put in so much as the facts they left out to make room (or because they didn't fit the story they were telling). Here are a few true incidents that did not make the movie (which remember, is both funny and suspenseful):
- The forgers put the wrong date on some of the passports, indicating that the carriers were travelers from the future.
- The Canadian cabinet had to meet in secret to authorize false passports. Then the authorities refused one to the CIA agent, because he had not been included in the vote.
- When the hero visited the Iranian consulate, he left his portfolio in the taxi cab.
- The CIA agents’ map of Tehran led them to the Swedish embassy instead of the Canadian one.
- On the morning of the actual escape, our hero slept through his alarm.
Here's the irony, by the way. I was at a songwriting group this week and a woman had written a song about a real person. I told her "you have to decide whether you're serving the person or the song." In other words, she was cleaving too closely to the truth. So call me a hypocrite, I guess.
Tangential episode: Speaking of the CIA, more than a decade ago I was at a dinner party and was seated near the new boyfriend of a woman I know. I asked him what he did for a living and he said he was an engineer. Well, practically everyone in my wife's family is an engineer so I asked what kind. "Systems engineer," he said, and put so much unspeakable boredom into those two words that I changed the subject.
Later my friend told me that the guy was actually an analyst for the CIA. And after he found out that I am a government documents librarian he was kind enough to send me a few books published by the CIA for my collection - nothing classified, I assure you.
Back when the CIA used to send a lot of paper documents to federal depository libraries like mine (now they don't because "everything is on the web," which it isn't but don't get me started on that), we used to receive pocket atlases of major cities in communist countries. These map books were highly prized because they were much more accurate and complete than maps of Peking and Moscow that you could actually buy there. But nowhere on the entire publication would you find the publisher's name. For some reason, people didn't wander around those cities carrying something that said CIA on it. Go figure.
And go see the movie. Just remember one thing that the film makes a point about: spies and movie moguls never let the truth get in the way of a good story.