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The Independent Critic

Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Adrienne Barbeau, Chris Messina, Clea Duvall
Ben Affleck
Chris Terrio, Joshuah Bearman
Rated R
120 Mins.
Warner Brothers
Blu-ray/DVD Combo includes an audio commentary, a feature length picture in picture: Eye Witness Account feature, 3 additional featurettes ("Argo: Absolute Authenticity", "ARGO: The CIA & Hollywood Connection", "Escape From Iran: The Hollywood Option"), and an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.

 "Argo" Launches Affleck Back Into Oscar Orbit 
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Argo is that rare flick that is both "popcorn flick" and Oscar contender, an extraordinarily compelling political thriller based upon the not so well known events that followed the Iranian overtaking of the U.S. embassy in Iran on November 4, 1979 that resulted in 52 hostages being taken and held over a period of several months. The piece of that story that was never quite as well known, at least not until it was de-classified by the CIA, was that during that takeover six hostages escaped out the back of the embassy and find refuge in the Canadian embassy.

Affleck directs the film and stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA operative with a specialization in just this kind of absurdly difficult and under-the-radar extractions. He comes up with what is a truly absurd idea for retrieving these six Americans - He will fly into Iran alone and return with the six disguised as a film crew working with him on a Star Wars-styled ripoff called Argo.

Sometimes, it's the most absurd ideas that make for the most compelling stories and cinema.

It's not difficult to remember that this film is set over thirty years ago, with virtually everything about Argo managing to exude everything we hated about the 80's without ever sabotaging the inherent drama and suspense within the story. We get the bad haircuts, the cheesy sci-fi, the smoke-filled rooms and much more. Rodrigo Prieto's camera work beautifully captures both the intricacy of exactly what unfolded and the very real and very risky human drama involved.

It's not particularly surprising that Affleck has crafted one of the year's finest films. In only his third directorial effort, Affleck has firmly planted himself as both visionary in style and sublimely dedicated to excellence in crafting even the most minute details. Affleck does a rather amazing job of weaving together humanity, heart-pounding suspense and a surprising amount of humor into what will unquestionably be one of 2012's Oscar nominees for Best Picture.

What is surprising is the fact that amidst all of this Affleck manages to turn in his best performance to date. Affleck avoids histrionics in his performance as Mendez, a wise decision that also utilizes quite well his own acting style. Affleck's Mendez is quieter, more simmering and communicates more vividly through his facial expressions, body language and the details in his actions. It's something, quite honestly, of which I'd have believed Affleck incapable - a finely tuned and disciplined performance.

He's not alone.

John Goodman is terrific as John Chambers, a real life Oscar-winning Hollywood make-up man who works with Mendez to craft the film along with producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), whose cynicism helps to fuel the film's lighter moments even though his presence is essential in making the entire project look and feel like a legitimate Hollywood production.

Bryan Cranston also does a nice job as the CIA chief who approves the project, while Victor Garber is nothing short of amazing as the Canadian ambassador who agrees to house the six escapees despite tremendous personal risk to himself and to his nation's presence in the country.

The mastery of Argo is just how precise it really is from beginning to end. While he occasionally takes a bit of dramatic license with the story itself, for the most part Affleck remains incredibly faithful to truth here and in doing so creates one of the year's most compelling stories that truly did come out of Hollywood in just about every way possible. The film that Affleck has crafted is entertaining, chilling, thrilling, mesmerizing, beautifully written by Chris Terrio and Joshuah Bearman, and so perfectly crafted in terms of its action choreography that it grabs hold of you in its opening moments and never lets you go.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic