Synopsis for the book:
The true account of the 1979 rescue of six American hostages from Iran
On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the American embassy in Tehran and held dozens of Americans hostage, sparking a 444-day ordeal and a quake in global politics that still reverberates today. Beaneath this crisis another shocking story was known by only a select few: six Americans escaped the embassy and hid within a city roiling with suspicion and fear. A top-level CIA officer named Antonio Mendez devised an ingenious yet incredibly risky plan to rescue them before they were detected. Disguising himself as a Hollywood producer, and supported by a cast of expert forgers, deep-cover CIA operatives, foreign agents, and Hollywood special-effects artists, Mendez traveled to Tehran under the guise of scouting locations for a fake science fiction film called “Argo.” While pretending to find the ideal film backdrops, Mendez and a colleague succeeded in contacting the escapees and eventually smuggled them out of Iran.
After more than three decades, Antonio Mendez finally details the extraordinarily complex and dangerous operation he led. A riveting story of secret identities, international intrigue, and good old-fashioned American ingenuity, Argo is the pulse-pounding account of the history-making collusion between Hollywood and high-stakes espionage.
I decided to write a comparative review right after I had finished reading the book, but then I saw the film and promptly lost the will to live. Hollywood did something right thirty years ago and then it ruined it. The book, however, kept me up reading late into the night.
Apart from the feel and look of the seventies—aided heavily by the contemporary news photography—and a handful of throwaway lines, the film had nothing of the story I loved in the book. And that’s a feat when Mendez has been telling this true story since 1997.
The Iranian hostage crisis started in 1979 and lasted the memorable 444 days. Dozens were held captive and tortured, but six escaped. Bringing those six house guests home was a hoax on several levels.
The book is written from Mendez’s point of view and it details the numbing steps of actual intelligence work as well as interpersonal histories of the people involved. There’s something far more touching in the matter-of-factness the house guests’, diplomats’, and others’ simple observations than there ever could be in the forced plot twists of a Hollywood action flick.
I understand that the agonising wait at the airport doesn’t translate well from a book onto the silver screen, but there had to be better options. They cut away more than enough meat from the story to make room for it.
The question remains, what the hell did Ben Affleck and George Clooney do right six or eight years ago to win an Oscar now?
The film: Skip it. The celebrations might be fun to watch but the Academy knows nothing.
The book: Read it. Read it now.