October 29, 2012

MOVIES: Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

Argo is a solidly crafted movie with fine performances, an interesting story well told, and a crisp, clean style that transitions nicely from the Hollywood satire of the first half to the nail-biting suspense of the second half. Best of all, it's an awards-friendly movie that never feels like it exists only to win awards (contrast, for interest, The King's Speech).

The setting is Tehran, where six Americans have escaped during the Iranian capture of the American embassy, and are now holed up in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Ben Affleck (who also directed the movie) stars as a CIA exfiltration specialist who comes up with a scheme to smuggle them out of Iran by passing them off as members of a Canadian film crew scouting exotic Iranian locations for a science-fiction film.

The cast is superb. Affleck is a stalwart leading man, determined and convinced that he can make his wacky plan work; John Goodman and Alan Arkin provide the necessary comic relief as the Hollywood insiders; Victor Garber, as the Canadian ambassador, captures both the willingness to help and the increasing frustration with the bind in which he and his nation have been placed; and there are a lot of recognizable faces -- Bryan Cranston, Chris Messina, Kyle Chandler -- in smaller roles. I particularly enjoyed the performance of relatively unknown Scoot McNairy, playing the hostage who is the most skeptical about Affleck's plan, and who winds up playing a key role in its success.

It's always a challenge to generate excitement and suspense in a "based on a true story" movie, when we know how everything turns out, but Affleck has pulled it off. The second half of the movie, especially the final airport sequence, is genuinely thrilling and terrifying.

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