Of the many films to debut so far at the Toronto International Film Festival, Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort, Argo, has much to set it apart. The film, about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, has a big-name Hollywood cast, is set in a country that is constantly in the news, and plays to the hometown crowd, detailing the involvement of Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, in helping six U.S. diplomats escape the country.
While reaction to the film has been mostly positive (it reportedly received a standing ovation at Friday’s premiere), Toronto Star columnist Martin Knelman suggests the filmmakers snubbed Taylor by not inviting him to the gala screening.
What’s more, Knelman (who has not seen the film but has spoken to several people who have) says it downplays Taylor’s important contributions during the crisis. That’s because the film “ based on the memoir The Master of Disguise by former CIA spy Antonio J. Mendez “ appears to ignore a more recent Canadian book, Our Man in Tehran by Trent University professor Robert Wright “ that reveals Taylor was actually spying for the U.S. at the time and had a bigger role in the hostage crisis than many had believed.
From The Toronto Star:
According to [Taylor’s friend Ralph] Lean and others who attended the premiere, Argo is an entertaining crowd-pleaser of a movie, but it downplays Taylor’s role while glorifying the CIA’s man, Tony Mendez (Affleck), whose job was to provide technical support for clandestine operations….
At the end of the movie, the CIA decides to let Canada have credit for the escape of the six, because otherwise the U.S. would be blamed and the other members of the U.S. embassy staff still being held hostage might be killed. (They were finally released in January 1981.)
The ultimate put-down comes with a postscript that appears on the screen just before the final credits, savouring the irony that Taylor has received 112 citations. The obvious implication is that he didn’t deserve them.
Knelman points out another slight to Taylor: the ambassador, who was in his forties at the time of the crisis, is portrayed (by Canadian actor Victor Garber) as a 65-year-old man with grey hair. The American hero, by contrast, is played by the far more youthful Affleck.