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Movie Review: Argo

October 12, 2012

Argo – A Warner Bros. Pictures’ Release

Release Date: October 12th, 2012

Rated 14A for coarse language and disturbing content

Running time: 120 minutes

Ben Affleck (dir.)

Chris Terrio (screenplay)

Based on an article by Joshuah Bearman

Alexandre Desplat (music)

Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez

Bryan Cranston as Jack O’Donnell

Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel

John Goodman as John Chambers

Victor Garber as Ken Taylor

Tate Donovan as Bob Anders

Clea DuVall as Cora Lijek

Scoot McNairy as Joe Stafford

Rory Cochrane as Lee Schatz

Christopher Denham as Mark Lijek

Kerry Bishé as Kathy Stafford

Kyle Chandler as Hamilton Jordan

©Warner Bros. Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) and Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) in Argo.

Our reviews below:


Argo Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

The story of how Ben Affleck turned around his failing career as an actor and became one of the most promising directors currently working reaches a crescendo with Argo, an immensely entertaining political thriller that works on multiple levels.  This is a solid piece of filmmaking that has been getting rave reviews from both critics and audiences alike since it first premiered last month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Starting in 1979, Argo is based on the true story of CIA agents Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and Jack O’Donnell’s (Bryan Cranston) brilliant plan to rescue six Americans taking refuge at the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) in Iran.  Amidst the political unrest of the country, their plan is to go in as a fake film crew pretending to shoot a science fiction movie called Argo, with the help of Hollywood big shots John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).  The way the story plays out is suspenseful and satisfying in equal measure.

Ben Affleck’s third film as a director, Argo shares a fascinating true story by making a version of the titular movie that was never actually made.  Although we pretty much already know how the story ends, there is so much suspense built up in the last act of the film that it’s impossible not to be swept up in the ingenuity of the plot.  With excellent performances from the entire cast, including Ben Affleck as the star and great supporting work from Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin, the script by Chris Terrio is full of sharp dialogue and great attention is paid to the period details of the time.

From the vintage Warner Bros. logo at the beginning to the intense rescue at the heart of the story, Argo is just a perfectly crafted piece of classic moviemaking.  Playing as a tribute to Hollywood with a very true story that could have easily been fiction, Argo is a tense and incredibly entertaining political thriller that is sure to be a crowdpleaser and deserves all of the attention it has received.


Argo Review by Erin V.  

**** (out of 4)

After a 1970’s style Warner Bros. logo, Argo opens with a brief history of the events leading up to the inciting incident, shown through storyboards fading in and out of news clips.  Based on a true story, the film takes place during the Iran hostage crisis, in which Iranian students stormed the US Embassy and took almost 60 Americans inside hostage.  In the chaos, it took them almost two months to discover that six who worked there had escaped out a back exit and were taken in by the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

But the CIA had realized long before and was in works to try to develop a plan to get them out of there alive.  With many ideas tabled, it was the unlikely one that got picked – exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez’s ‘so crazy it just may work’ idea of flying into Iran on a Canadian passport, with a fake script, new passports for the six, and flying them all out together as a Canadian film crew scouting locations in the country.  This story of two nations working together to rescue people peacefully is engaging all the way.

The film’s title is based on the fake script ‘Argo’ which was picked because it was a sci-fi adventure that needed an exotic location that could be Mars to shoot – thus the plausibility of looking into places like Iran.  Much of Argo takes place between Washington D.C., and Hollywood, CA, as Mendez and his team went to great lengths to get their fake movie seem real – even going so far as getting a nice write-up in trade magazine Variety.  But there is no doubt that the most suspense comes from the final act – set in Iran as the plan is actually put into play.  Whether or not you know the outcome, or the exact nature of this true story, there is no doubt that you will be held at the edge of your seat with an impeccably well filmed, edited, and paced sequence to and through the airport.

Argo boasts a strong cast, including director Ben Affleck as Mendez, Bryan Cranston as his superior Jack O’Donnell at the CIA, John Goodman as makeup artist John Chambers, and many others such as Alan Arkin (who plays the producer), Victor Garber (who plays Ken Taylor), and the cast of the six hostages.  All turn in performances that help drive the film.  The pictures of the real people during the end credits show just how close look-wise the casting for the six hostages were.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is very fitting for the film and nicely understated.  The other technical aspects, such as the production design which recreated the look of the late ‘70’s is also very good.  The script manages to be both tense and suspenseful, while also light with the dialogue between those back in the states trying to figure out how to make this plan work.  One thing’s for sure – “Argo f#*k yourself” just might become the most remembered line from this film.


Argo Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Based on the famous 1980 “Canadian caper” rescue of six American hostages from Iran, Argo tells the story from Hollywood’s point of view.  The movie begins with a storyboard sequence of the political events that led up to the hostage taking.  When Iran’s rather unpopular Shah (King) was sent to the United States for cancer treatment, a riot erupted outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.  Several Americans were taken hostage, but six escaped and hid in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

Getting the hostages out of Iran safely requires an ingenious plan.  Enter CIA agent Antonio Mendez (Ben Affleck), whose son’s love of science fiction inspires him to pose the hostages as Canadian filmmakers looking to Iran as a cool backdrop for their sci-fi film, entitled Argo.  Mendez’s plan is both supported and questioned by his boss Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), but with the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), as well as the Canadian government, manage to pull off the greatest acting gig ever.

While Argo largely brushes over Canada’s role in the rescue operation, (Parliament even had to issue a legal exemption to the ban of fake Canadian passports), the film still made me proud to be a Canadian.  The message to be taken from Argo is that there are peaceful solutions to problems.  Being a relatively peaceful country, Canada helped bring a successful solution to this major event.

Every line of dialogue in Argo is clever, and often ties into later scenes in a big way.  The acting is superb and is bound to get some Oscar recognition.  The film is also funny at times, with one vulgar joke that never gets old.  The Canadian jokes are hilarious, and one line in particular about the pronunciation of Toronto gets some huge laughs.  There is great suspense as well and the last act really holds you on the edge of your seat.

The film is beautifully underscored by Alexandre Desplat, with a haunting combination of vocals and oud (lute).  A nice nod to Canada comes during one scene with Canadian composer Andrew Lockington’s “Grumps” theme from One Week playing over silence.  Argo is easily one of the year’s best films.  It’s sure to get some Oscar nominations and it deserves them.  This is a real crowdpleaser that is sure to be a hit.


Argo Review by Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

Opening with a graphic novel stye montage of images from the civil unrest in Tehran, Iran in 1979 with voiceover describing the events, it’s clear that Argo isn’t glossing over the harsh realities of this significant historical event.  When Iranian citizens stormed the American Embassy dozens of hostages were taken with six staff members managing to escape and hide out at the home of Canada’s Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

Desperate to step in and rescue the six house guests, the CIA brainstorms a strategy.  CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) proposes using a fake film shoot as a coverup passing the six Americans and himself off as a Canadian film crew.  With the help of Mendez’ boss, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and award-winning sci-fi makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), they create a phoney film company, Studio Six, and go through the motions of preparing to produce a film.  Hollywood press is soon convinced that a new sci-fi film set in the Middle East called Argo is in production and that it will be a big hit.

The scenes in Hollywood are amusing with some of the best lines coming from the “phoney” filmmakers, particularly Alan Arkin’s character.  The line “Argo f#*k yourself” somehow works in this movie.  The lighthearted Hollywood scenes are a sharp contrast to the tense scenes in Iran and at the CIA offices.  Even though most audiences know the outcome of the story beforehand, the tension, especially towards the climax, is really well done.  Argo is an intelligent, suspenseful and often amusing political thriller.

The cast in Argo is especially strong.  Ben Affleck again shows he has what it takes to act and direct in the same movie.  Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman are also excellent in their supporting roles.  Beautifully underscored by Alexandre Desplat, the whole movie has a quietly suspenseful tone that really works.

Though some will argue that Argo is somewhat one-sided in its telling of the story, Canadians and Americans can both be proud of their roles in this amazing true story.  Stay through the end credits for interesting photos and facts.  Argo is definitely worth seeing.


Argo Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Argo was the title of the fantasy movie script used as a pretext to exfiltrate six American embassy workers from Iran during the 1979 revolution. The film opens with a brief storyboard account of the 1953 ouster with U.S. intervention of a new democracy by the hated decadent Shah. As the Shah lay dying in an American hospital, revolutionary forces brought Ayotollah Khomeini out of exile as supreme leader of a new theocracy. The U.S. embassy was stormed by a mob and all but the six that escaped were held hostage for over a year. The six became “house guests” of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Given Canadian identities as a visiting film crew they were safely taken out of the country.

According to Argo, the film based on his own book, CIA agent Tony Mendez (director Ben Affleck) masterminded the whole scheme under the supervision of his boss (Bryan Cranston) with support from veteran makeup man John Chambers (John Goodman) and film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). The story unfolds like a Mission: Impossible plot with Mendez ensuring that every detail of the scam is pulled off, right up to a final runway chase by trucks that reminded me of the “Libyans” from Back to the Future, all accompanied by an effective Alexander Desplat score.

Argo works well as a thriller, maintaining suspense throughout its two hours with quiet attention to detail among the background chaos in the form of archived news reports mixed with grainy new footage largely shot on 8mm and 16mm film. Affleck, Cranston, Arkin and Goodman get all the good lines, however. The six rescuees and the rest of the huge supporting cast are almost mute by comparison, notably Victor Garber as Taylor portrayed here as little more than a doormat, even though the cover story of the time giving Canada credit for the operation (to prevent retaliation on the U.S.) was more accurate than the film implies.

As long as you take its story with a grain of salt, Argo is a brilliant film overall, and should figure largely during awards season.


Consensus: Directed by Ben Affleck with a strong cast and an excellent screenplay by Chris Terrio, Argo is an impeccably crafted political thriller that is based on an incredible true story and provides plenty of entertainment and suspense.  ***3/4 (Out of 4)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2012 8:52 am

    Wow! Glad to hear that this one was a hit. Great reviews. Can’t wait to see this one.


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