Canada finally gets more credit regarding the great Argo caper
While lacking much of the flash of the fictionalized Argo Larry Weinstein and Drew Taylor’s Our Man in Tehran is no less compelling. And that’s because the documentary like Ben Affleck’s film on the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979 focuses its lens elsewhere — namely on Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor a man with curiously little screen time in Argo . It’s not hard to see why; measured sober and intelligent he’s not exactly Hollywood fare even if he has a brilliant story to tell.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Our Man in Tehran locates itself in Iran in the late 1970s when the Shah is ousted in favour of Ayatollah Khomeini’s new regime. In the process the American embassy — and those who work with them — is captured by the Ayatollah’s forces; they’re seen as sympathizers with Iran’s former regime. The embassy is taken hostage by militants and Islamist students.
That’s where Taylor comes in. Dubbed “our man in Tehran” by then U.S. president Jimmy Carter the Canadian ambassador would become a key if understated figure during the hostage crisis — and the key to the Canadian Caper a joint effort between the CIA and the Joe Clark-led Canadian government to liberate six American diplomats from Tehran.
The first thing established however is Taylor’s calm collected courage. After he hides six diplomats in his own home — they expect to be there for an extended period of time even promising to see Taylor’s son over his Christmas break from boarding school — he begins hatching a plan to help the Americans escape the country.
Between corresponding with Ottawa and the American government plans begin to emerge: Ex-CIA agent Tony Mendez revealed a plan to have the six Americans pose as filmmakers complete with a fake sci-fi movie. Finally Taylor — with Ottawa’s assistance — creates falsified Canadian passports to smuggle the American diplomats out of the country.
Our Man in Tehran ’s revelations seem almost too sensational to be true but to the film’s credit Taylor’s exploits are handled without hyperbole. (It’s telling that nearly every review of the film thus far mentions how Canadian it is in its even-handedness.) The Canadian Caper doesn’t need any exaggerations: Interviews with a methodical white-haired Taylor reveals the tale without emotion. Flora MacDonald then the foreign minister of Canada rigidly recalls how badly her hands were shaking while she was signing the falsified passports. Clark recalls the pressure exerted on him by then opposition leader Pierre Trudeau who was unaware of the plan to be more active in helping the Americans. Heck even Mendez’s appearance while hardly explosive lends credence to Our Man in Tehran proving that the interviewers chose their subjects carefully.
It is perhaps the directors’ way of saying that the Canadian Caper needn’t be sensationalized — and for many audiences Argo could serve as a gateway drug to the substantive work of Our Man in Tehran . Handled journalistically methodically and nearly clinically the documentary may well be a mirror to Ken Taylor himself — and we mean that in the best possible way.