A number of Canadians, particularly ones who would consider themselves savvy on the subject of national history, certainly winced at last year’s Hollywood take on the Canadian Caper, Argo; a shutter that only deepened when the Ben Affleck fictionalized film took home best picture. Argo focused itself on the influence of La La Land on getting the six trapped Americans out of a brutally hostile Iran following the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, downplaying the role of Canada and diplomat Ken Taylor in orchestrating one of the most bewildering and badass operations the true north has ever managed.
Our Man in Tehran, a new documentary from Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein, follows closely on the heels of the award winning dramatization, but those hoping for strictly a pushback to Argo’s American jingoism may be disappointed. Revenge, after all, isn’t very Canadian.
The actual crisis began years before the hostages were taken. As Our Man’s roster of hosts sit down, they establish that there once was a time that the US and Iran were close friends. America’s good relationship with the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his neglect of his struggling civilians, led to an exceptionally ill sentiment between Iranians and Americans. American embassy workers didn’t expect any danger, but when the revolt sparked, the six ‘houseguests’ didn’t have many places to flee, which is what brought them to the living room of Ken Taylor.
While it is a talking heads documentary, spliced with footage and newsreels, it’s a lot less sterile and motionless than most films of the type. Each speaker was a player, hostage or spectator who sat ringside and inside the developing international emergency, including central figures Taylor and CIA spy Tony Mendez.
We’re often given windows of details and anecdotes from the situation as it had developed, though, oddly enough, not very much on the specific inception of the Argo idea. Perhaps because we already have an Oscar winning feature blockbuster on the matter, far more is elaborated about the rising Ayatollah and the failures of Eagle Claw and Jimmy Carter. Not to mention strange conflicts in the Canadian parliament at home.
But it’s a humble enough doc, one that’s about painting a picture more than proving a point. There’s no back-at-yah to the ‘Arrrgo fuck yourself’ film. There’s no bad feelings. Ken Taylor is still plenty flattered in discussion (often on his charisma and choice fashion), but he isn’t revealed to be the taskmastering mastermind behind the extraction of the six houseguests. Other than the constant upping tensions of the adaptation, Our Man in Tehran syncs really well with Affleck’s film.
Our Man in Tehran isn’t as much about Taylor as the title (which refers to him via a quote from Carter) would suggest. It’s a Canadian film, and I suppose as Canadians we have a duty to be polite even when our historical moments of triumph are usurped by a country that has plenty. So for those hoping for something contrarian, this isn’t it. It is, instead, a gracious and detailed recollection of a defining and shifting moment in American and Middle Eastern relations, and for those piqued by Argo, a necessary follow-up.
I’m still not forgiving Affleck for making a Jack Kirby a blonde, though.