Argo

Argo

Smart, crowd-pleasing thriller that's based on the unbelievably true story of a CIA effort to smuggle six Americans out of Iran during the 1979-1980 hostage crisis, based on one operative's (director Affleck) so-crazy-it-just-might-work scheme: going to Tehran under the pretenses of location scouting for a Canadian movie that doesn't really exist, and sneaking the six out as members of the imaginary film crew.

Argo is one of those clever films that dramatize events just obscure enough that you don't know exactly how they turned out. But even when you do know, it's a test of the film's ability to keep you in suspense, to make you forget what you know as you wonder just how all of this is going to get pulled off.

As a director, Affleck keeps getting better. He's still a stiff actor, but he at least seems aware of his inadequacies, so his character doesn't need to show much in the way of emotion, he just needs to tell everybody else what to do. And as with his previous effort The Town, Affleck surrounds himself with some of the best character actors working today: Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall, and so on.

Argo strangely didn't linger with me very long - tidy, well-oiled thrillers rarely do - but it certainly kept me enthralled as I was watching it. Affleck and his editing team deliver enormous suspense in the third act, and the film as a whole displays an expert eye for period detail. There are no "2012 versions of '70s haircuts" here: everybody looks and dresses precisely of the period (though Affleck had just enough vanity to give his character a cool, modern-looking beard, instead of the fat moustache that his real-life counterpart actually sported at the time). Historians might pick at the occasional bit of creative license, but on the whole, Argo is a thoroughly satisfying film, and definitely worth seeing.