The film is set in 1980 after the revolution in Iran and the overthrow of the US Embassy in Tehran. Most of the embassy staff were taken prisoner by the revolutionaries but six escaped from the embassy and were sheltered by the Canadian ambassador in his residence. The story is concerned with what happened after the CIA realised that they were there and what they attempted to do as a result of this. The plan was to concoct a story that they were making a film in Iran and then hoping that no one would really notice when they left.
Ben Affleck's film is a study in re-enactment. For the film he recreated those dangerous days in Iran but also looked at what was happening in the US at the time, this is shown in the symbolism of the derelict state of the Hollywood sign. This is of course in line with the way the new Republic of Iran accused the US of immorality in giving sanctuary to the Shah after he fled the country. There is also evidence of this when the Iranian cultural official talks about the amount of pornography that was shown on Iranian TV before the revolution, in the regime of the US backed Shah.
The film does not go into great detail about what the embassy staff were doing in Iran. The republicans had accused them of spying but it's probably true that every embassy in the world is involved in information gathering to some extent. Some things governments will never admit to but are very often willing to accuse other governments of.
We also see a cynical depiction of Hollywood, after our lead in with the dilapidated sign Alan Arkin and John Goodman very happily talk about how phoney the business of film making is and of all the liars there. It’s interesting that they are talking about one of the most visible sectors of US industries in the world and say that it is driven on lies, deceit and greed. Not far from what the Iranians were saying about the Great Satan.
There is a very useful job done of getting over to a cinema going public that things in the Middle East may not be as clear cut and straightforward as they might have imagined. The film begins with an attempt to explain the context of the story, depicting what the Shah and his regime were accused of. However unpalatable the events of the revolution were they happened for a reason. I suppose sometimes we just have to understand what has happened, were we are now and make the best of tomorrow. The trouble is suppose finding that right balance where you do recognise what has happened in the past but not at the cost of the future. This is an engaging film that will at least make you think and think on.