09 April 2013


Book by Antonio Mendez. Film directed by Ben Affleck.

A book review and a movie review, all at the same time!

I saw Argo (the movie) last October when I was visiting my friends Brandy and John in Colorado. Brandy and I had planned to go and visit some mountains and some snow, but it rained instead. Everybody knows that rainy mountains aren’t nearly as much fun as snowy mountains, so we opted for a movie day instead. I am embarrassed to admit that I knew little to nothing about the Iran hostages prior to seeing Argo, so it was even more of a learning experience for me than it might have been to a more knowledgeable viewer.

I agree with the reviewers who thought that the manufactured tension at the end of the movie was a little bit tiresome, but overall, I loved Argo. The casting was perfect – especially Alan Arkin and John Goodman – and I agree with all those people who were dumbfounded that Ben Affleck didn’t receive a Director nod at the Oscars. I’m not generally able to pinpoint good directing as the reason I enjoy a film, but Argo is an exception to that. I suppose that Best Picture is a pretty good consolation prize, but in all honesty, I thought Zero Dark Thirty deserved Best Picture just as much as Argo deserved Best Director. Oh, well – I’m not in charge of either decision.

My mom and I were in DC last weekend, and while we were there we visited the International Spy Museum, which is across the street from the National Portrait Gallery. We weren’t able to go when we were in the District last summer, but we’d been told that it was a fun museum. At some point during the lead-up to awards season, I read that Antonio Mendez and his wife, both former CIA operatives, were on the board of the museum, which further intrigued me. In all honesty, I can’t say that I was all that impressed with the museum itself; I chalk it up to an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia, my absolute inability to figure out the preferred direction of travel inside the museum, and the fact that way too many people (and too many children, in particular) were there. I eventually started following every exit sign I found and made my way to the gift store (I do love a gift store, y’all), where I found autographed copies of Mendez’s book Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History. I bought one for myself and one for my dad, who loved the movie as much as I did.

This isn’t the book that the film is based on. That’s The Master of Disguise, which was written after the operation was declassified in 1997. Mendez wrote Argo in 2012, after the film had already been completed. As anticipated, the book fills in all the details that the film glosses over. It’s an easy read, albeit lengthier than necessary (I found myself wondering whether Mendez had an ineffective editor or a page number quota that he couldn’t reach without pages and pages and pages of backstory). In any case, I loved learning about how CIA operatives are trained in forgery and disguises; it’s like Mission Impossible, only real.

In a nutshell, here’s what we learn from both the book and the film versions of Argo: the CIA is crazy smart; you can’t hide from them, but they can very effectively hide from you.

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