Review by Luke Whitmire

In his third film, Argo, actor-director Ben Affleck devises one of the most compelling, rip-roaring Hollywood thrillers to be put on celluloid, complete with fascinating elements of romance, action, comic relief, and a stylistic homage on par with Sydney Lumet’s classic films. Affleck’s Argo is as taut and intelligent as Lumet’s indelible classic, A Dog Day Afternoon.  Affleck takes the true story of the 1979 Iran hostage crises-the surreptitious CIA apprehension of six stranded American Embassy diplomats-and molds an extensive political vision of that dismal time.
For those of you who know little about this dark time in history-in 1979 a Revolutionary faction stormed the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 diplomat workers prisoner, while six service workers escaped and were protected  in secret by a Canadian Ambassador. What led to the infiltration goes back to 1953, when America and Britain helped back a political coup that forced an authoritarian leader into position, a Shah. After perpetual turmoil from the Islamic Revolution, the Shah fled to the united states, eventually getting medical treatment. American President, Jimmy Carter refused to extradite him back to Iran to stand trial. This escalated the violence more in Iran and the crises became a bigger burden to America, especially to the innocent embassy workers held captive in Iran. 
Incredibly, CIA operative, Tony Mendez concocted a plan and a cover story for an escape attempt for the six American diplomats. His plan was to make the diplomats filmmakers on a location scout for an upcoming Canadian sci-fi film called “Argo.” To establish the cover story, Tony and his CIA team set up a fake production company, enlisted the help of real Hollywood makeup artist and a producer, and managed to convince Iranian security officers that a group of U.S. diplomats was really a film crew.
Ben Affleck effectively plays lead CIA operative Tony Mendez. This truly is Affleck at his best, not some callow performance we have seen him play many times before, especially before he started directing. He’s believable as a sly, hard-pressed operative working to make the best out of a bad situation. Supporting roles are filled by strong character actors including the likes of Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, and John Goodman. The film certainly doesn’t suffer from lack of talent. Casting has been one of Affleck’s strong points since taking the directors seat. Argo proves that he has a keen eye for particular actors to fill these three-dimensional characters. 
Argo functions best when Affleck has screen time with John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Affleck segues from the serious moments of the Iran crises to the soft, comedic sequences, showing the glitzy, shoddy side of the Hollywood industry. Contrapuntal skill at its  best. John Goodman and Alan Arkin play creative Hollywood insiders that help Affleck and his team through the creative process of developing “Argo”. These moments really shine in the film. 
John Goodman plays the affable John Chambers, a real Hollywood makeup artist who worked on The Planet of the Apes films and who created the pointy ears for the character Spoke in the original Star Trek series. Alan Arkin portrays the sharp-witted and confident Lester Siegel, an industry producer who gleefully skewers the industries eagerness to masquerade as compassionate and sincere people. Alan Arkin is at his funniest here. Comic relief that is a cross between The Producers and Wag the Dog
Affleck does a brilliant job juggling the complex story by using story board panels, voice over, and cleverly using old news footage to present the history and the takeover. Furthermore, Affleck has a keen eye for detail. In one scene we see the old dilapidated Hollywood sign in the hills in 1980. Affleck takes pains to make small details extremely veritable .The disco-era clothes, haircuts and glasses are authentically great, matching that era, and for once the soundtrack tunes-which including songs by Led Zeppelin and Dire Straits-aren’t woefully anachronistic. Even the font used for the Argo title is era accurate. We are transported back to 1979 and 1980 with an uncanny view of that time.
 Finally, what’s so fascinating about Argo is the contextual parallels seen in Iran today.The film strikes an incredibly topical chord, especially in light of the UK embassy in Tehran shutting down at the end of last year, and Canada deciding to sever ties with the country several weeks ago. Argo is a small picture of the laborious relations between America and Iran.
Bottom line: An engrossing and richly authentic caper from Ben Affleck, who skillfully blends suspense, comedy and high-stakes drama.
* * * * *
5 stars out of 5