Dan's Review: Argo

- Argo (Warner Bros.)

Rated R for language and some violent images.

Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek, Titus Welliver.

Written by Chris Terrio, based on an article by Joshuah Bearman.

Directed by Ben Affleck.



For people my age and older, the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981 is a vivid memory of how troubling the Middle East can be. Argo, a film directed by and starring Ben Affleck about 6 Americans who escaped the crisis with the help of the Canadian Embassy vividly recaptures some of the drama and tension of the crisis.

Affleck stars as real-life CIA agent Tony Mendez, a man entrusted with getting the 6 Americans back home after they slipped past the mob that overtook the U.S. Embassy on November 4, 1979. The group was taken in by Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), who hid them in his residence until their escape in January 1980.

Part of the CIA plot to rescue the Americans involves the employment of real-life Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), who teams up with producer Lester Seigel (although not a real person, is played wonderfully by Alan Arkin) to create a fake movie. The phony movie will create a scenario by which the 6 Americans can use false Canadian identities and fly out of the country as part of a movie crew. The fake movie is named "Argo" - a cheap Star Wars ripoff that would be filmed in the deserts of Iran.

As Mendez, Chambers and Seigel work to create the false movie (complete with a Burbank Studios production office, story boards, a movie poster and a real script), Tony's boss (Bryan Cranston) must keep his Washington D.C. superiors on board.

As the operation commences, Tony flies to Iran and meets with cultural officials aligned with the Iranian revolutionary movement to set up the film crew ruse. He also meets with the nervous Americans, most of whom are not convinced the ploy will work. After coaching the group and some nervous moments, Mendez and the Americans begin their trek to the Tehran airport where they will run the gauntlet of revolutionaries, customs agents and airport security before boarding their commercial jet for home.

As a film, Argo is a very well-made, tense thriller with a lot of great moments that will evoke scary memories of the Iranian hostage crisis. Affleck is most decidedly a better director than he is an actor, although his performance as Mendez is more than adequate. Perhaps one of the greatest of Argo's triumphs is the accurate re-creation of several scenes from the crisis that are matched almost perfectly with the images we saw on TV those 32 years ago. The mood, costumes, hairstyles and technology are also nearly perfect. Affleck also deserves credit for the tense pacing in Argo, leading up to the final escape that will keep audiences riveted to the edge of their seats.

John Goodman's performance as Chambers should be considered for supporting actor awards at year's end, while Alan Arkin provides several great moments throughout the film. Cranston is equally brilliant, along with a supporting cast that makes you feel like you're living in 1979 again.

The slight bad news for Argo is the stretching of the truth via an abundance of creative license over the actual facts of the incident. Most of the "fact-challenged" moments were obviously added to boost humor and tension (including truckloads of Iranian revolutionaries chasing a 747 jet down the runway), but Argo is "based" on actual events and should not be considered as an accurate historical record. Canadian historians might also have beef with their diminished role in the story.

Even with the historical liberties, Argo is one of the best films of the year, and solidifies Affleck as a more than serviceable director following his success in The Town (2010) and Gone Baby Gone (2007).

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