argoThe Art of the Sting.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Michael Parks, Kerry Bishe, Philip Baker Hall, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Tom Lenk and Taylor Schilling
Director: Ben Affleck
Scriptwriter: Chris Terrio
Composer: Alexander Desplat
Warner Brothers
Rating: R for language and violent images
Running Length: 125 minutes
The word “argo” can have many meanings. It can be the name of a ship (“Jason and the Argo-nauts”) or part of the word “argosy” which means fleet of ships, or the name of a plan to smuggle out government workers who found refuge in the Canadian Embassy during a revolt in 1979 Iran. The latter works in this film that is directed, and stars, Ben Affleck, with many familiar Hollywood faces to bolster the plot. Of which, John Goodman and Alan Arkin steal their scenes. Note to audience: take notebook to movie. If you want to learn how to go through life, reference Goodman and Arkin in their discussions of how to manuver in show business.
The time is 1979 and the Shah has been taken out of Iran, which is in revolt and Americans are persona non gratis. Other countries fare better, though, including Canada. When the American Embassy is over taken (in a harrowing scene reminiscent of the Middle East today), most Americans are taken hostage, but six manage to escape to the home of the Canadian Ambassador.  No one knows they are there. Enter Ben Affleck as a free-floating government agent who hatches a plan to smuggle them out as part of a film crew. (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in “Romancing The Stone”and a book ploy) It takes time to put the plan together, and Ben goes to Hollywood to make a fake movie, with fake credentials, fake notices in the press, fake business cards and hopes that at the Iranian border, the guards won't notice that only Ben entered Iran and now he has six extra people with him. All in a day’s work.
Along the way come bits of humor with Alan Arkin and his stream of profanity, John Goodman always with a scheme and a host of actors who scheme along with them in Hollywood and those in the American State Department who alternately OK the plan, dissolve it, put it together again…all for a hair-biting movie. This is better than any horror movie and what monster will come out from behind the door, because this was real and bodies were hanging from light poles in Middle Eastern cities.
It takes about half of the movie to get things moving as Ben starts to smuggle the six people out. There is a scene of a mock execution designed to break the hostages. We have scenes of “yes, we should go” and “no, I don't want to go” within the Canadian group, Ben doubting his abilities, Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador wringing his hands in despair, who to trust and the U. S. government trying to figure out a feasible diplomacy and today, Iran is still a problem. Not much has changed. Totally, the . hostages taken by the Iranians were in captivity for 444 days.
As for acting, Ben is a stoic person here, and in only one or two scenes, lets emotion come through his eyes. He hides behind his beard. Other-wise, this film is a step-by-step, demi-documentary on the events of that time. Perhaps, Ben should have directed and gotten another leading man. We meet John Goodman as he is walking into an office in Hollywood and takes command from there on, sharing with Alan Arkin, not in size, but in the amount of profanity each can muster. “No, it can't be done…..(pause)…..I'll call ……..and see what he can come up with……..(in other words, nothing is impossible in Hollywood.”) Production values are realistic throughout and the crowd scenes harrowing. Stay through the end credits.
My favorite scenes were Ben writing a message on a birthday card to his son knowing he may never see him again, the first time the Canadian group was outside as a dry run to see if they would hold up under scrutiny, and a state department official who finally decides to go along with the plan. Go for broke. This is why Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and why Curiosity is making discoveries on Mars. When push comes to shove, we go for broke.

Copyright 2012 Marie Asner
For other Ben Affleck action films see:
The Company Men 
State of Play

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