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Review: Argo

Escapist cinema
By PETER KEOUGH  |  October 12, 2012
3.0 3.0 Stars

There are many heroes in Ben Affleck's spunky, polished political thriller. But the biggest hero is Hollywood itself. When the CIA and the White House and the whole might of the United States failed to rescue American Embassy staff members trapped in Tehran by the fanatic throngs of the Ayatollah in 1979, an intricately fabricated movie production got the job done. Hard to believe, but almost as impressive is how Affleck excises the politics in this loaded scenario and turns it into a bipartisan celebration of American know-how and values.

>> READ: "Affleck on 'Argo'" by Jake Mulligan <<

Well, it's almost devoid of politics. You're not going to warm to any of the bearded or burka'd Islamic revolutionaries braying for American blood or hanging people from cranes or just acting like assholes for the hell of it. Certainly not in the nerve-wracking opening scenes (after a brief history lesson cleverly illustrated by movie story boards) of hordes storming the US embassy. The staff destroys all the classified material, their terror made palpable by Affleck's frantically mobile camera and rapid-fire editing. It has to be the most exciting paper-shredding scene ever made.

Somehow six embassy people escape and find precarious refuge at the Canadian ambassador's home. But as shots of children painstakingly reassembling the embassy's shredded documents indicate, time is running out before the Iranians learn of their existence and identities. So the CIA calls up crack, if hungover, agent Tony Mendez (Affleck), who concocts a desperate plan. He'll visit Tehran posing as a producer scouting locations for a sci-fi potboiler called Argo. And the six stranded Americans will be disguised as his Canadian crew.

It's all true, but sometimes Affleck leans so heavily on manipulative suspense tactics that the real story seems like the phony one. I mean, did the movie's faux LA producers (Alan Arkin and John Goodman) really have to wait until a fight scene shot at their studio was finished before they could take a crucial phone call? But Affleck handles the politics with more finesse. He'll get you riled up about those crazy Iranians, but in the end he shows how movie magic can sometimes work better than missiles and bombs.


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