Film review: Argo

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Ben Affleck directs and stars in Argo, an action thriller based on the declassified true story of a CIA rescue mission. Photo: Warner Bros. Ben Affleck directs and stars in Argo, an action thriller based on the declassified true story of a CIA rescue mission. Photo: Warner Bros.

The most noticeable thing about Argo —and this can’t entirely be the point —is that Ben Affleck, as a director, continues to grow into a confident helmsman. He trusts his actors (there’s not a weak supporting performance in the bunch), trusts the story, and doesn’t rush anything.

Therein lies Argo’s problem. This story, about six Americans who escape from the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979 when it’s stormed by militants, should be tenser than it is. Rushing things to build tension probably isn’t the solution, but Argo unfolds so nonchalantly that whatever tension mounts, dissipates as it’s building. Seriously: Is Ben Affleck NOT going to save six Americans hiding out at the Canadian ambassador’s house?

Don’t get the wrong idea. Argo is good. It’s just not great. The story, which is based on a real event, goes like this: On November 4, 1979, militants in Tehran, angry that the United States was protecting the deposed Shah after he fled from power, entered the American embassy and took hostages. Four hundred forty-four days later, the hostages were released. Miraculously, six Americans who worked in the embassy, four men and two women, escaped on November 4. They were given refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home and a plot was hatched to get them out.

Enter Affleck as the man with the plan. After he tells the State Department its ideas to get the hostages out—one of which involves having all six of them ride bikes to the Turkish border—are no good, he struggles to come up with his own. While watching one of the many Planet of the Apes movies on TV, he hits on something: We’re Canadians. We’re scouting a sci-fi epic and we want to film in Iran. I go in, meet them, we all walk out. Simple, right?

It’s a crackerjack idea. Unfortunately, Affleck doesn’t use any of the awesome paranoia that exists in 1970s thrillers, such as The Parallax View or even All The President’s Men, in his own movie. He gets the look right; this is what the ’70s looked like (try not to laugh). But he plays his stoic stock character, which brings to mind the “sad Keanu” meme from a few years ago, more than it does a veteran CIA agent trying to get six Americans out of a hostile country before they’re all killed. Luckily, he’s aided by a game cast, including Bryan Cranston as his boss, Kerry Bishé as one of the Americans (appearing, for once, outside an Ed Burns movie), and the under used Clea DuVall, also as one of the hidden. Plus, Alan Arkin and John Goodman provide comic relief as the men helping him make a fake movie look real.

One thing Affleck gets right: There will be a scene that moves the story forward, followed by a scene that heightens the drama. For example, one gunshot amid silence goes a long way in building tension. He lets those moments fade, though, and the ending is never in doubt, even though perhaps it should be.

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Argo/R, 120 minutes/Regal Downtown Mall 6

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