It’s a clean, efficient studio crowd-pleaser aimed at adults. There probably should be at least 10 or 12 of these a year, but since there aren’t, let’s celebrate Argo, Ben Affleck’s white-knuckle thriller based on a story so insane, it could only happen in Hollywood.
It’s 1979, and the Iranian embassy is under siege. Hostages are taken, but a handful of workers escape to their Canadian neighbors’ basement. Enter Affleck’s Tony Mendez, a CIA pro who figures how to rescue the refugees by staging a phony science fiction movie shoot.
His superiors call it “the best worst idea,” and before long, Affleck is rolling in the gilded age of 1970s Tinsel Town, working with a very droll John Goodman and the uproarious Alan Arkin to polish one grandiose turd of a cover story.
Argo is extremely savvy entertainment, deftly blending showbiz satire with street-level suspense sequences. Affleck revels in the grimy '70s period detail, shooting on grainy film stock and letting the shag haircuts, countless cigarettes and awful moustaches do a lot of the talking.
Confidently helming his third directorial effort, Ben Affleck once again proves himself a genius with actors who are not Ben Affleck. A murderer’s row of supporting players fill out Argo, the aforementioned Arkin and Goodman doing their most playful work in years, backed up by an invaluable Bryan Cranston and too many more to mention. The only speedbump here is the star-director himself—much like in The Town, he just can’t resist soulfully mugging for the camera while granting himself iconic shots nicked from John Ford movies.
He also pumps the climax a little harder than he needed to, straying from the historical record in order to goose the audience along for the ride. No matter, as the first two thirds of Argo are sleek, machine-tooled Hollywood craftsmanship at its most purely entertaining, positioning Affleck as a filmmaker to be reckoned with—which is something I never thought I’d write.