Ben Affleck’s political thriller “Argo” casts new light on U.S. secret mission

The political thriller “Argo” casts new light on a previously secret mission to spirit six U.S. citizens out of Iran, but star and director Ben Affleck says that doesn’t diminish the heroic act of the Canadian ambassador who made their escape possible.

Screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, “Argo” is based on the true story of six U.S. diplomats who were snuck out of Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis after being sheltered by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.

At the time, Taylor was hailed as a hero while the Canadian government was praised for orchestrating a daring rescue that became known as the “Canadian Caper.”

The crucial role of the CIA and some Hollywood filmmakers in making the escape possible was kept classified for nearly two decades, and is the focus of “Argo.”

Nevertheless, Affleck says the risky operation would not have been possible without Canada’s help.

“Unchanged is that six American lives were in danger and they needed refuge. And there were folks who didn’t want to stick their necks out and the Canadians did,” Affleck said at a downtown news conference Saturday.

“They said, ‘We’ll risk ourselves, our diplomatic standing, our lives to harbour these six Americans that we owe nothing to and just because it’s the moral, right thing to do.’

“They did it. As a result of that, their lives were saved. That is absolutely unchanged. The fact that (the CIA) was involved does justice and honour to the truth of … U.S. involvement but none of that would have happened without our friends to the North, so thank you very much.”

“Argo” co-stars Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Victor Garber as Taylor.

Affleck plays CIA “exfiltration” specialist named Tony Mendez, who comes up with a risky plan to get the six Americans safely out of the country. It involves concocting a fake science fiction film project and passing the six U.S. citizens off as a Canadian film crew.

“Argo” made an unusually timely debut at the festival, with the red carpet gala taking place the same day Canada announced it was cutting ties with Iran.

Affleck says the news simply illustrates the relevancy of “Argo.”

“While the movie is 30-years-old it really is still relevant,” said Affleck, who previously directed “The Town” and “Gone Baby Gone.”

“Both in the sense that it’s about the unintended consequences of revolution and in the sense that we’re dealing with the exact same issues now than we were then.”

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called Iran “the most significant threat to world peace,” abruptly announcing that Canada was severing ties with the country.

Affleck says it’s particularly fitting that “Argo” is getting a highly publicized boost at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Ben Affleck confirmed a couple of things at the Toronto International Film Festival Saturday afternoon. He’s not directing the all-star superhero flick Justice League; he was never asked

And, yes he’s having a great time promoting Argo at the festival this weekend. Mind you, it’s always fun to chat about a movie that’s getting praised.

Affleck was pleased with festival predictions that Argo could be an Oscar contender in the film, director and screenplay category, while lots are predicting Alan Arkin is bound to earn a supporting actor Oscar nod for his droll turn as a Hollywood producer.

Still, the director in Affleck refuses to take  credit for the casting. “You don’t have to be a genius to realize Alan Arkin is a great actor,” he said.

Meanwhile, the crowd-pleasing Argo isn’t the only movie at the festival for Affleck. He co-stars in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder.

“It’s very unusual,” concluded Affleck, who described the non-linear To the Wonder story as The Tree of Life without scenes. “It’s for people who like some Malick with their Malick.”

“One of the things that I loved about this screening here is to me the movie does say, it does resurrect this idea of: Thank you Canada,” Affleck said.

“Of valuing Canada, respecting Canada, reaching an arm of friendship across the border. Naturally, we’re quite close but it’s one thing to be close, it’s another thing to say, ‘Hey thank you for this in particular.'”

The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 16.


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