You may have seen Argo, with its angry Iranians and narrow escapes, but the Canadian documentary Our Man in Tehran tells a much more nuanced story about the American hostage crisis—starting with the corruption and cruelty of the Shah’s regime, sharply rising income inequality, and how Ayatollah Khomeini channeled that anger for his own purposes, taking the rest of the world by surprise.
Tehran also shines its lights on the risk-taking and machinations of Canadian officials, rather than Argo’s fixation with the CIA, hiding the six Americans who’d escaped from the embassy and managing to get them out of the country. And it lingers on the stark contrast between the few who’d escaped the embassy for a gilded cage—one recalled dinner, drinks, and cigars every night at the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor—and the dozens living in a more dire form of captivity, some of whom were tortured.
The situation, the film argues, was confusing for all parties—storming an embassy and taking hostages was not in the political vocabulary at the time, and nobody expected a handful of angry youth, working for one man with a big beard and a grim heart, to bring a superpower to its knees. That, as we know now, was just a prelude.