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Fim Review: "Our Man In Tehran" tells the true story behind "Argo"

Posted by Greg / November 18, 2013

Smiley faceOur Man In Tehran is Argo sans Hollywood; a retelling of the story that carried Ben Affleck to Oscar-winning glory in 2012. Some might argue that it's also a redressing of the factual injustices perpetrated along the way. More than either of these, however, Our Man In Tehran is a modest tribute to the eponymous individual in question - ambassador Ken Taylor - and the extraordinary part he played in helping six Americans get back home.

Taylor, you see, wasn't given much of a role in the big-money thriller. Sure, he was the man who took the Americans in; he housed them and ensured they were well cared for; he liaised with Ottawa and ensured wheels were put in motion that would guarantee they were given the best chance of escape. But he was little more than a shadowy figure on the periphery of Affleck's frame. That edge-of-your-seat, popcorn-selling account had little room for a man of Taylor's disposition; there was just so much else going on that was more exciting.

Far from being an outrage, this fact is a testament to the ambassador and his behaviour, the exploration of which is one of the foremost achievements of Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein's documentary. After only a few minutes of screen time, it is clear that this is an individual in whom Hollywood could have little natural interest. He is too much a diplomat, too measured and calm to be a character in a Tinseltown caper. His unsuitability for a meatier role in one film was, of course, what made him so utterly fit for the role he played in reality, and what makes him so quietly captivating a subject for this picture. He seems to meticulously weigh each word before speaking, rapidly evaluating the interpretative nuance it might be possible to glean from his utterances. He's so much the careful, consummate, spokesman that when the words, "that's just the way Americans do things" drop from his lips, they carry a shock, as if they were uncharacteristically frank.

The directors do a fine job of portraying this cautious, poised man and his place in this remarkable true-life narrative. That, in its ostensible simplicity, is the second most important service Weinstein and Taylor provide; they show how incredibly riveting actual events were. Rid of the soft-focus, glossed-up lens, it's somewhat astonishing to find that reality is, indeed, stranger than (or at least as strange as) fiction. The story of Iran under the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini's exile are given more room to breathe here and the context adds to the natural drama. There is also an extensive cast of interviewees, each providing a fascinating perspective on events ranging from the Canadian parliament's wrangling over the issue, to the torture experienced by the prisoners who weren't as fortunate as the "Argo 6".

It all goes towards what is ultimately a fascinating and worthwhile documentary. Our Man In Tehran may well have set out to set the record straight after Argo, but it wears the purpose lightly. It is much more an engrossing chronicle of a singular story that just happened to center around a quietly brilliant man.

This review was written by Rory McCluckie.


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