Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
This is what it's come to people.  If director Ben Affleck is making a movie, you pretty much have to go see it.  I don't know near enough about the craft of filmmaking to know what makes one film director more skilled at his craft than another, since as far as my knowledge takes me the director is just the guy in the monogrammed chair that yells 'ACTION' and 'CUT', but obviously it's more involved than that.  However when it comes to sitting on my ass and looking at movies… I'm pretty good at that.  Ben Affleck hasn't let me down yet and his latest film 'Argo' continues his hot streak of crafting intense, gripping, dramatic themed thrillers.

'Argo' begins with a quick primer on the history of the nation of Iran just to let the audience know why the majority of the country was so darned unhappy with the United States in the late 1970's.  Ultimately what the Iranian people want is the Shah of Iran to be sent back home from his exile to stand trial for crimes against the people and then executed for all to see, but at the present he's in the United States where he was being treated for some form of cancer. 
Most everyone is aware of the Iranian Hostage Crisis when the U.S. embassy was stormed and 52 embassy workers were held for 444 days, but what fewer people were aware of was the six Americans that slipped out the back door as the mob was busting through the front door.  Somehow these six made their way through town and to the home of the Canadian Ambassador where they would hole up and pray for somebody to somehow, some way, rescue them. 

How in the world are we going to get into Iran and sneak out six American Citizens?  And if it's going to be done, it has to be done very soon because the militants are
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aware that the embassy is six people short and they are somewhere hiding out in their country.  If they find them, judging from the people we saw hanging from the neck from construction cranes, it won't be good for them.  CIA specialist Jack Mendez (Affleck) has a plan.  It's not a good plan, but as they informed us during their strategy sessions it is the least worst plan that they could dream up.
This plan was to pose as a Canadian film crew scouting authentic locations for their Sci-Fi epic 'Argo', legitimize this fake film by hiring a top notch Hollywood makeup man in John Chambers (John Goodman), and a real live Hollywood producer in Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to take care of all of the movie loose ends, then fly into Tehran, trick some Iranians into thinking that these six Americans are part of the Canadian film crew, and then jet out to Switzerland.  Simple.

Hardly.  There are problems for Mendez and his little movie plan all the way around.  His bosses don't think the mission has a chance in hell, the Iranians barely believe his cover, the people he's trying to rescue are proving to be an obstacle in their own success and when the rubber is about to hit the road it's looking like his own government is about to abandon him.  There's no chance this can succeed.  You would think.  However I doubt they'd greenlight a movie about six Americans dangling from the light posts on the streets of Tehran. 

 I'm on record as saying when I want to see a well done, tight, taut, white knuckle thriller I usually have to go to France because at this point and time the French apparently do thrillers best.  Uh… make that the French and Ben Affleck.  Pretty much from the word 'Go', where the action is taking place in and outside the American Embassy in Tehran, to the final escape attempt, 'Argo' drips with tension and it rarely lets go of you.  Sometimes you might sit there wishing it would let go of you, but no… the tension keeps escalating as the movie goes on and it just keeps choking you out. 

But it is those rare occasions where the tension lets up and 'Argo' kicks back a little that it becomes a little easier to observe a couple more of the films strong points, these being some very smart and clever writing and some strong performances turned by some of the best character actors working in films today.  Brian Cranston brings his usual high level of performance as Mendez's boss Jack O'Donnell, but in particular John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the curmudgeonly Hollywood old-timers are particularly good and have several purposes in support of this film.  They are integral in giving us, through Mendez, an eye on the B.S. that is the Hollywood way, of course they are key in pulling off the ruse that is the movie Argo, but most importantly, in a movie that is full of tension and almost completely humorless, their occasional appearances tend to reset everything and allows the audience to reconstitute themselves before the next wave of this impossible mission kicks off to make us uneasy again.

Should director Ben Affleck have cast actor Ben Affleck as the lead?  There might've been better choices I guess and I'm sure director Ben Affleck and producer George Clooney could've gotten anybody they wanted to be in this movie… say like their good friend Matt Damon… but personally I thought Affleck was fine in the role.  As Mendez he was commanding, in charge, and gave an air confidence that barely masked the underlying uncertainty the character was experiencing.  

No doubt about it, at least if you ask me, 'Argo' is a top notch thriller re-enactment about a very dark time in our nation's history, and one of the best movies we've seen in this year of 2012.
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