Argo is a true story. Kind of.
The basics are correct. It's a loose interpretation of the rescue of six people who escaped from the American embassy in Iran at the start of the hostage crisis that went 444 days in 1979 and 1980. They hid out in the homes of two members of the Canadian delegation.
Director Ben Affleck -- who also stars -- puts them in one home. And where the group, pretending to be a Hollywood film crew, more or less just walked out of those homes and onto airplanes at the airport in Tehran, Affleck gives their story a twist or two and ratchets up the danger and the tension.
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And he does it really, really well.
Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA specialist whose skills center on getting people out of a jam. When the hostages are taken and the six escape, Mendez is brought onto the scene to devise a way to get the six out of Iran. His solution sounds as insane as the near-crazed revolutionaries.
Pretend you're making a science-fiction movie. Iran is a location you want to use to do some of the scenes. Set up an office, grab a script, hire some real Hollywood talent, do news releases, design costumes and print posters. And then it's off to Iran to convince the authorities there that you're really doing a movie.
To pull it off, Mendez gets major help from real Hollywood honchos -- played nicely by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Coordinating the plan with his CIA boss, Jack O'Donnell -- very, very nicely done by Bryan Cranston -- Mendez goes to Iran and starts the removal process.
This is where the true story gets changed even more. But it's for dramatic purposes.
And it works.
As an actor, Affleck isn't bad. Behind the camera and directing, Affleck is awesome. Argo and his other films -- The Town and Gone Baby Gone -- prove Affleck to be a director of exceptional skill. His storytelling skills are superb. All three of his movies have kept us glued to our seats and riveted to the screen.
Few storytellers can do that.
His casting of some of the better known, real-life people involved is canny. So is his skill at picking actors to play the lesser-known people. Jimmy Carter's chief of staff Hamilton Jordan is nicely done by Kyle Chandler and looks eerily like the guy. The actors playing the escapees are also dead ringers for the real people.
Argo combines real footage from the embassy takeover and some events after, with staged shots. Affleck does an excellent job of blending them together. Quick cuts, the use of sound and visuals, and sometimes silence, are used to build tension. Even though you already know the six make it out safely, Argo, and the hostages are released at the beginning of Ronald Reagan's presidency, Argo is a gripping, nail-biting thriller whose last act will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Director: Ben Affleck
Stars: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin
Rated R for mature themes, violence and graphic images. It is playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
Rating: 5 stars.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.