Thrilling Os­car prospect

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES -

BLUE-CHIP Os­car con­tender that’s also a rous­ing pop­corn movie, Ben Af­fleck’s Argo of­fers plenty of nail-bit­ing thrills as well as fun­nier scenes than you’d ever imag­ine pos­si­ble in the grim con­text of the Iran hostage cri­sis, which be­gan in 1979.

Quick his­tory les­son: That’s when 52 em­ploy­ees of the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Tehran were held cap­tive for 444 days by fol­low­ers of the Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini af­ter the coun­try’s ail­ing long­time ruler, the shah, fled Iran for asy­lum in the US.

The film fo­cuses on half a dozen em­ploy­ees who es­caped into the streets when the em­bassy was over­run by an an­gry mob of students. The es­capees were hid­den for three months by brave Cana­dian Am­bas­sador Ken Tay­lor (Vic­tor Gar­ber).

The long-clas­si­fied true story of how they fi­nally fled Iran – by pos­ing as the crew of a phony sci­encefic­tion film, led by a steel-nerved CIA agent – is stranger than any fic­tion Hol­ly­wood could in­vent.

This pre­pos­ter­ous and dan­ger­ous-sound­ing scheme is the brain­child of a CIA ex­trac­tion ex­pert named Tony Men­dez (Af­fleck in his finest work yet).

With the Cana­di­ans pre­par­ing to aban­don Iran, Men­dez presents it as the ‘‘best bad idea’’ to safely fly the Amer­i­cans out of the coun­try on a com­mer­cial air­craft. To con­coct a con­vinc­ing cover story to fool Ira­ni­ans search­ing for the Amer­i­cans, Men­dez turns to his pal John Cham­bers (John Good­man), an Os­car-win­ning makeup artist, who re­cruits a cyn­i­cal movie pro­ducer (Alan Arkin). They quickly op­tion a script for a ‘‘$20 mil­lion Star Wars ripoff’’ called Argo and plant a story in Va­ri­ety about the project’s im­mi­nent pro­duc­tion plans.

Af­fleck aces the film’s tonal shifts so flaw­lessly that it’s sur­pris­ing this is only his third movie as a di­rec­tor. You’d think it was the work of a vet­eran.

Most dar­ingly, Af­fleck cross-cuts a photo-op readthrough of the cheesy Argo script by cos­tumed ac­tors with ter­ri­fy­ing scenes of the em­bassy hostages (the ones not be­ing hid­den by the Cana­di­ans) be­ing sub­jected to mock ex­e­cu­tions. Purely for lack of op­tions, the White House re­luc­tantly agrees to send Men­dez off to Tehran on this mad mis­sion.

The Cana­di­ans have agreed to pro­vide phony pass­ports for their ‘‘guests’’ but it’s up to Men­dez to teach the six how to pose as a film crew – and lie their way past sus­pi­cious armed guards at the air­port.

Even with co-op­er­a­tion se­cured, Men­dez and his boss (Bryan Cranston) back in Wash­ing­ton have to think fast when the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion gets cold feet be­cause of the po­ten­tial em­bar­rass­ment should Men­dez fail.

Screen­writer Chris Ter­rio’s su­perb script avoids car­i­ca­tur­ing the Ira­nian ex­trem­ists or their be­liefs and al­lows Af­fleck to of­fer some white-knuckle sus­pense for a grand show – and a slam-bang end­ing to Argo that’s guar­an­teed to have au­di­ences cheer­ing.

Ben Af­fleck and Bryan Cranston star in

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