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Argo (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 120 minutes.

OK for children.

Even though director Ben Affleck is not shy about his leftwing political leanings, this is still a tense, relatively non-political telling of the CIA's rescue of six Americans who fled the US Embassy in Iran on November 4, 1979, and were given sanctuary at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), who risked his life and the life of his wife Pat (Page Leong) when all the other American allies in Iran refused to help.

The script is by Chris Terrio, and is based on a selection from the Master of Disguise by Antonio J Mendez and the wired magazine article The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman.

For my money, Affleck is one of the best directors in Hollywood with two outstanding films already to his credit, The Town, 2010, and Gone Baby Gone, 2007. He's even better here than he was in those two.

Although Affleck did not write the script, this still qualifies as an auteur performance because in addition to directing, he also stars and coproduces with fellow left-winger George Clooney.

The re-creation of the takeover of the American Embassy by Islamic zealots, who took over Iran with as a result of the complicity of feckless US president Jimmy Carter's withdrawal of U.S. support for our best ally in the Mideast, the Shah, is especially impressive.

In fact, the entire movie is especially impressive. While many people may know the outcome, it is still a taut tale that can keep you on the edge of your seat. Affleck gives a fine, understated performance as CIA "exfiltration" specialist, Tony Mendez.

Tony comes up with an out of the box idea to rescue the six Americans. He proposes to go in as an American producer of a film and bring the six out as part of his team. Looking through lots of scripts he comes up with a sci-fi film entitled "Argo." He goes to Hollywood and encounters John Chambers (John Goodman), an award–winning makeup pioneer, who received an honorary Oscar® for his masks for the original Planet of the Apes. He also recruits a real-life producer, Lester Siegel, played with panache by Alan Arkin, who is the best thing in this very good movie. This part of the film is loaded with stale Hollywood jokes.

The six actors who comprise the ones escaping the Embassy all give fine performances, perfectly capturing their dilemma, fear, and uncertainty, especially about Tony's bizarre plan. They certainly didn't embrace it with unfettered enthusiasm.

Everything about this film is high quality. I can't imagine it not being up for multiple Oscars®. One final comment is that you should stay for the end credits, because they include pictures of the real-life people who lived through this ordeal alongside the actors playing them. The similarity in looks is remarkable, which is why I'm, well, remarking.

October 11, 2012