Thursday, February 14, 2013


Directed by Ben Affleck.
2012. Rated R, 120 minutes.
Ben Affleck
Bryan Cranston
Alan Arkin

John Goodman
Victor Garber
Tate Donovan
Clea DuVall
Christopher Denham
Scoot McNairy
Kerry Bishé
Rory Cochrane
Kyle Chandler

During the final days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the American Embassy in Iran is overrun by people angry with the U.S. for sheltering their recently deposed shah whom committed a number of atrocities against his own people. Hmm. This is part of an obvious pattern but since this is a movie review and not a political column we’ll keep it moving. In any event, over 50 Americans were taken hostage as it was hoped they could be exchanged for the shah. Amidst the mayhem, six Americans managed to escape and find refuge at the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Garber). Since it is only a matter of time before captors of the rest figure out who is missing and where they are, big-wigs at the CIA are trying to come up with a plan to rescue them so that they don’t also become hostages or suffer a worse fate.

Exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Affleck) is brought in and he quickly points out the flaws in all their ideas, but doesn’t have one of his own. Things change when his son’s love of science fiction movies inspires a plan so ridiculous it just might work. His idea is to pose as a producer scouting locations for his next film and leave with the escapees who will pose as his crew. Yes, this is based on a true story.

Argo succeeds mostly because it is devilishly tense. The conversations and debates among our six refugees or the hand-wringers of the CIA all carry a palpable sense of urgency. This and the progress we see the Iranians make in putting the puzzle together make it clear that the Americans are working against the clock. The other major reason it succeeds is because the comic relief is so well done. There are no bumbling fools or pratfalls, just sharp humor slicing through the thick of it at the perfect moments. It’s a masterwork crafted by Affleck, the director. For me, each of his three efforts from the special chair has been brilliant. By the way, Gone Baby Gone and The Town being the others. He may have made his name as an actor and dater of starlets, but it seems his true calling is behind the camera.

In front of the camera, he holds his own. However, the real acting kudos deserve to go to the rest of the magnificent cast. Each of them play their roles perfectly. Alan Arkin and John Goodman are both particularly exceptional. Both men can add this to a long list of fine supporting roles. For Goodman, that makes two just in 2012. He stole every scene in which he appeared in Flight.

Without any action scenes beyond the initial storming of the embassy and without demonizing an entire people as villains, Argo manages to steer clear of dull moments. Like any other movie ‘based on a true story’ it’s not 100% factual. However, in this case, liberties taken with the truth are wonderfully handled and enhance the viewing experience. This is grade A movie-making.

MY SCORE: 10/10

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