“I need you to help me make a fake movie,” says CIA “exfiltration” expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). “You came to the right place,” says Hollywood makeup man John Chambers (John Goodman). The fake movie is “Argo” — a cheesy sci-fi flick. Six Americans have escaped from revolutionary guard-occupied Tehran embassy. Holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s (Victor Garber) residence, can they be extracted from Tehran, passing as members of a Canadian film crew, visiting Iran to look for exotic locations for their film shoot? That’s the setup for this smart, exciting thriller, based, as they say, on a true story. It’s a good film that I can recommend.
Director Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, CIA expert on getting captives out of dicey situations. His plan for the Iran escapees, as his CIA boss (Bryan Cranston) says to the Secretary of State, “is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.” Affleck underplays his role — quiet spoken, focused, determined — as he attempts to convince the skeptical captives that his cockamamie plan can work. The six escapees are well played by Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishe, Christopher Denham, Clea DuVall and Rory Cochrane.
Others in the cast include John Goodman as real-life makeup man and Alan Arkin as has-been producer Lester Siegel, a fictional character who has the best lines. “If I’m doing a fake movie,” he says, “it’s got to be a fake hit.” Goodman and Arkin are a treat to watch. Bryan Cranston is CIA Deputy Director Jack O’Donnell. Victor Garber is courageous Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.
“Argo” is a tense, smart, exciting escape caper/political thriller, with excellent direction by Ben Affleck and tight, spare script by Chris Terrio, from Joshwah Bearman’s article. Its story is told, quasi-documentary style, as a straight narrative, no flashbacks, including vintage TV news clips with Peter Jennings, Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite and President Carter. Dialog reveals some characters’ back stories, so we care about them and Tony Mendez, whose story we also learn. Production values are high: excellent cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, smart editing by William Goldenberg, and music by Alexandre Desplat. Like “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), “Argo” is, among other things, a movie about the power of movies. Everybody loves movies, it says, even B sci-fi epics like “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” (1973).
Rated R for language and violent images, “Argo” runs 120 minutes. It’s adult entertainment that elicited applause when I saw it. “Argo” will be one of the best movies of the year. You read it here.
Excellent flick “Argo,”
Smart, tense, exciting,
Hostages in Iran,
Witty and nail-biting.