‘Argo’: The Reviews Are In!

Critics are lavishing praise on Ben Affleck's real-life spy story.

We’ve reached that point in the film-release calendar when the major movie studios have started to roll out their big guns, be it the award contenders or crowd-pleasers or both — think of it as the highbrow blockbuster season, if you will. One of those films that fits into both the award-contender and crowd-pleaser category is “Argo,” the real-life story of a covert government operation to rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.

The early word on this thriller/drama is very good. Critics are lavishing praise upon the film’s A-list ensemble, Ben Affleck’s directing and its nearly universal appeal. Read on as we revel in a true Hollywood story of good government conspiracy and the heroes responsible, in the “Argo” reviews!

The Story
“This political thriller has it all: a suspense plot centered on Americans in mortal peril during the Iranian hostage crisis that erupted in late 1979; a stranger-than-fiction subplot that was, in fact, concocted by the CIA to effect the Americans’ escape; and a movie within the movie that’s all the funnier for being fake. The crisis began when Islamist revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took more than 50 Americans hostage. In the midst of the terror and chaos, however, six of them escaped into the streets, then took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. It’s their tale the film tells, not that of the 444-day crisis in its sprawling entirety, and what a tale it turns out to be. (The factual details, declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1997, are brilliantly embellished in the screenplay that Chris Terrio based on a Wired Magazine article by Joshua Bearman.) To rescue the six before their whereabouts are discovered, the CIA’s top “exfiltration” operative, Tony Mendez — a real-life figure played by Mr. Affleck — devises a cloak-and-camera plan to sneak into Iran, give the sequestered Americans new identities as Canadian filmmakers scouting locations for a sci-fi film called “Argo,” then whisk them out on a regular commercial flight from Tehran’s international airport.” — Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

Affleck As A Director
“Mr. Affleck handles his own roles, on camera and behind it, with a noticeable lack of self-aggrandizement. He doesn’t show off with his direction or the performances, going for detail instead of bombast with eerie silences, traded glances, trembling gestures and beaded sweat. (It’s a good guess that he’s committed the unnerving opening of ‘Three Days of the Condor’ to memory.) His own delivery can be so tamped down that he sometimes registers as overly restrained, almost bland, yet his control serves the material, partly because it would have been a mistake for him to try to upstage this story, much less Mr. Goodman and Mr. Arkin. And then, in the end, this is a story about outwitting rather than killing the enemy, making it a homage to actual intelligence and an example of the same.” — Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

The Performances
“The only problem with Affleck’s absolute triumph as a director is that it may overshadow his powerfully understated performance as Tony Mendez. Showier turns from Affleck’s supporting cast may get more attention, and for good reason: three-time Emmy-winner Bryan Cranston (‘Breaking Bad’) gives a strong performance as CIA assistant deputy director Jack O’Donnell, while John Goodman is also terrific as John Chambers, the renowned makeup artist who designed Mr. Spock’s pointed ears and won an honorary Oscar for his groundbreaking work on the original ‘Planet of the Apes.’ But Alan Arkin steals the show as Lester Siegel, the old-time Hollywood producer who fronts the whole charade and drops classic one-liners the whole way through.” — Scott Mantz, “Access Hollywood”

Fact vs. Fiction
” ‘Argo’ hails from Hollywood, so the movie houseguests endure a whole lot more of all kinds of jeopardy than apparently happened in real life: The closing credit reading ‘some scenes and dialogue in this film have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes’ is putting it mildly. But because the physical verisimilitude ‘Argo’ creates is so striking, and because Affleck is so good at following the ABC rule (Always Be Cross-cutting), moving back and forth among the houseguests, the Iranians, the bureaucrats in Washington and the Hollywood types, that invention is compelling as well as inevitable. This is no documentary, it’s a major studio motion picture, and a heck of a good one at that.” — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

The Final Word
“To Ben Affleck’s credit, he’s made a terrific, pulse-elevating thriller that will leave the audience cheering, and also something more than that. With America’s tormented relationship with Iran back on the global front burner, ‘Argo’ is also a crafty, reflective mood piece that will leave you thinking about the resounding echoes of that tormented and not-so-distant era.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com

Check out everything we’ve got on “Argo.”