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edge staff writer


Argo' stranger than fiction

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Director/star Affleck brings true story to life

One of the things that Hollywood often forgets is that some of the greatest stories are true stories. A movie doesn't have to be populated by fictional supermen and grand events that never were in order to be engaging, exciting and interesting.

It wasn't that long ago (although it seems that way sometimes) that we saw the golden age of the auteur filmmaker. Movies even popcorn fare - were based on vision and quality storytelling, not special effects and merchandising tie-ins. Nowadays, we'll only occasionally get a throwback to that kind of film.

'Argo' is one of those throwbacks.

Ben Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who specializes in exfiltration removing people from hostile environments. It is 1979 and the American Embassy in Iran is being overrun by protesters demanding the return of the former Shah of Iran from the US to face judgment for his crimes.

When the Embassy security is breached, the majority of Americans there are taken hostage by Iranian forces. However, six individuals, having seen the imminent danger, make a run for it, finding their way out a back door and onto the streets. They make their way to the home of the Canadian ambassador and go into hiding.

When the State Department discovers that these six have escaped, the wheels are (eventually) set into motion to find a way to get them out. This in turn leads them to Mendez, an 'ex-fil' specialist, and his boss Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston, TV's 'Breaking Bad'). Asked to come up with a plan, Mendez is inspired by a conversation with his son. His plan? Pretend to make a movie, with the six Americans becoming a Canadian film crew.

Mendez makes his way to Hollywood, enlisting the aid of Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman, 'Trouble with the Curve') and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, 'The Change-Up'). The three men acquire a script for a sci-fi/fantasy epic named 'Argo,' as well as setting up a production company and building a media buzz about the fake project.

From there, Mendez has to make his way into Iran, jump through all of the hoops and convince the frightened fugitives to go along all while knowing that any mistake is potentially a fatal one.

Affleck has reinvented himself over the past few years. Gone is the Hollywood joke that made monster flops like 'Gigli' and 'Jersey Girl.' With 'Argo' alongside his other directorial features 'Gone Baby Gone' and 'The Town' Affleck has established himself as one of the most proficient mainstream directors currently working. Who saw that coming?

'Argo' is a wonderfully rendered snapshot of an era. Real archival footage is interspersed with recreations of iconic images to create a film that feels like it is of the era it is portraying, rather than a look back in time. That feeling lends the entire film a sense of real-time urgency even though we know these events are in the past, they feel like they're happening now.

The cast of 'Argo' is universally excellent. Affleck is perhaps a bit more subdued than one might like, but his portrayal of Mendez feels honest and genuine. Cranston continues to show a versatility that is frankly astonishing. Goodman and Arkin are phenomenal, chewing the scenery in some wonderful satirical skewering of Hollywood tropes. The rest of the cast Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Victor Garber and Kyle Chandler, among others is populated from the top down with outstanding talents; there are no weak links.

A great story, a great cast and (Heaven help us) a great director really make 'Argo' an engaging and electric cinematic experience. It's easily one of the best films of 2012.

5 out of 5


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