Desert One Review - Emotional, Intense, A Must See

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Desert One, from The History Channel and Greenwich Entertainment, presents a deep examination of the Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission with interviews from key players including President Jimmy Carter, the hostages, the Iranian captors, and members of the rescue mission.

The documentary, by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple, delves behind the scenes, weaving together a complete timeline of United States involvement with Iran, detailing how the tensions between the two nations developed, the aftermath of the leadership change, leading to the seizing of the United States embassy by radical Iranian students in 1979 and the rescue mission.


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Beginning with the Shah of Iran, Desert One reveals an accurate and thorough story building each element allowing the viewer to understand the fullness of the international positioning and power shift while hearing the motivation for the extreme hatred of Americans through those who led the student movement.

To his people, the Shah was a brutal dictator, a murder, having killed many innocent Iranians. He also enjoyed a healthy and friendly diplomatic relationship with the United States. The leadership of Iran changed greatly with the emergence of the Ayatollah. His hardline opinions united the people to denounce the United States and American citizens.

Interwoven were interviews with members of the Iranian Hostages, each explaining the time, season, how they were first introduced to the nation, interesting cultural aspects that most will never know as well as the climate, which is also a surprise.

To hear Kevin Hermening, one of the hostages, at the time a 19-year-old Marine, stationed at the Embassy Gate, explain from his vantage point the mob scene as the students were roaring down the street toward the embassy provides first-hand account of the takeover. More importantly, his orders which included minimal, and non-lethal, force essentially allowed the students to climb the gate and takeover the embassy with no resistance. It was November 4, 1979.

Desert One goes inside the embassy during the crisis with never before seen pictures. Two other hostages John Limbert and Michael Metrinko, both US Foreign Service officer stationed in Iran, knew the country, and also spoke Farsi were promoted to translator as the hostage takers knew no English.

The documentary also interviews the hostage takers, Hossein Sheikholeslam, a student in Iran in 1979, was eventually called in to work as an interpretation, and Faizeh Moslehi, both have gone on to be professionals. They have no remorse over the takeover.


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President Jimmy Carter and his Vice President Walter Mondale each provide greater insight into the beginning of the crisis, the daily briefs, his continued determination to use diplomacy, any rescue operations which presented scenarios that included the possible loss of hostage life, were continually and always vetoed.

The documentary provides a timeline of behind the scenes information including the history of the elite DELTA team. From interviews with those soldiers on the rescue mission and family members, wives, and children of those lost, the viewers understand the precision of the mission and the dedication of the team

The mission was planned, and as the documentary explains the team would fly into Iran and land on a dry lake, in a deserted region, and from all intelligence they could gather the road is never used, and especially at night.

As the team lands, suddenly headlights are approaching them. A tour bus filled with all members of one family were headed to a nearby town. Mahmoud Abedini, who at the time was eleven provides a first-person account of what he witnessed.


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The American public had limited information, and clearly no access to 24/7 news stations or the information highway, and society at large depended on the trusted news sources to provide truth in reporting. Ted Koppel provides the media side of the news reporting machine at the time.

What we knew then is President Carter took a chance and the mission failed. What we know now is for reasons outside his control, including a weather phenomenon, the mission was aborted and during a sandstorm which made visibility zero, one of the helicopters crashed into a C-130, that had been loaded with DELTA members.

DELTA members that escaped provide minute-by minute accounting of the loss.

Desert One is hypnotic. From the first beat, the documentary pulls the viewer into the day, the moment. We are invested in the story, even as we believed we knew the entire account, the documentary makes clear the truth of each scenario.

Kopple presents through the lens of clarity, of hindsight and provides footage, secured documents, previously unheard audio conversations and even the hostage takers, that continue to this day to denigrate the Americans and believe they were right. It can be a bit unnerving to hear the strong statements of unprovoked hatred for every American.


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Desert One is emotional. Even as America has seemed to move past patriotism, or national pride, the dedication of those involved in this mission exemplify these uncommon values. Desert One will shock, surprise, and grab the attention, holding it right through the very end. Even through the failure the documentary shows an America past, dedicated, patriotic, and willing. See it.

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