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Ben Affleck directs Iranian hostage crisis thriller 'Argo' and also stars (at center) as CIA agent Tony Mendez.
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BY ROGER MOORE
McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
Ben Affleck is closing in on the perfect thriller. "Argo" shows us how near the mark he has gotten in just three films.
Since stepping behind the camera to direct, Affleck has yet to make a movie that doesn't pull us to the edge of our seats.
He may have showed his easy way with suspense and pathos, chases and humor with "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town." But "Argo" has him operating on a whole new level.
This deft blend of mortal terror, personal and national humiliations and Hollywood chutzpah is one of the best pictures of the year.
"Argo" is based on a true story that took place during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80. Six Americans slipped through Iranian clutches and hid in the Canadian ambassador's residence.
The U.S. State Department wanted to disguise them and have them ride out of the country on bicycles. But one CIA agent had a better idea. Give 'em sunglasses, call them movie people and pass them off as Hollywood types on a "location scout" for a "Star Wars" ripoff, a sci-fi picture set in the desert.
It is "the best bad idea" the higher-ups (Philip Baker Hall, Bob Gunton) have in front of them.
So Tony Mendez (Affleck) gets the green light for a caper so wacky it can only have been inspired by his son watching "Battle for the Planet of the Apes."
They need to pull this off quickly. The Iranians are closing in on the folks hiding out. They need this production to look legit. They need "real" Hollywood folks, "names."
Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman, perfect) is an old CIA contact. He drags in producer Lester Siegel, played with the usual profane relish by the great Alan Arkin.
Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio could have easily turned this far-fetched tale into a farce. And the Hollywood scenes are exactly that--cynical, silly, downright giddy.
Period-perfect rock songs litter the soundtrack, Rolls Royces dot the Hollywood hills and no Hollywood cliche--bluffing down an agent's asking price for a bad script titled "Argo"--is too corny to revive.
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall
CREDITS: Directed by Ben Affleck, written by Chris Terrio. A Warner Brothers release. Running time: 1:58.
MPAA rating: R for language and some violent images
THEATERS: Aquia 10, Marquee Cinemas, Paragon Village 12