Affleck makes a great escape; Ben's real-life spy tale high on thrills; Mirror Sunday MOVIES.
ARGO 15, 120mins. Opens Wednesday
STARS Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan.
THE STORY In 1979, the US embassy in Iran is taken over by militants and six staff members seek refuge in the Canadian embassy.
With the six in danger, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) conjures up a plan.
With a Hollywood producer (Arkin) and an Oscar-winning make-up artist (Goodman), he concocts a fake sci-fi film project and tries to convince the Iranians the six are part of a Canadian film crew scouting for locations.
THE VERDICT With star - and the film's director - Ben Affleck sporting his best bushy beard and playing a genial spook, Argo turns out to be an enjoyable and polished spy thriller.
But there is no Bourne-style martial arts action or Bond-style stunts and gunplay (though things do get nicely tense towards the climax). Instead, Argo is a seriously smart piece of grown-up drama.
Based on a true story, it is a case of life being even stranger than fiction.
With his CIA bosses desperate to rescue the embassy staff from Iran, agent Mendez comes up with a bizarre and rather ludicrous plan. The first half of the film sees him head to Tinseltown and, in the best traditions of comedy-heist thrills, he teams up with a seedy producer (Arkin at his best) and a make-up expert (Goodman, as great as ever) to come up with a fake film to pretend to shoot in Tehran. A script for a dodgy sci-fi fantasy flick called Argo fits the bill perfectly.
The second half sees Mendez, using a fake Canadian passport, making contact with the six stranded American embassy staffers. He then has to train them to fit into their false IDs as a film crew and try to get them on to a plane - all before the Iranian troops track them down.
Affleck is great as the tenacious spy, and while the film plays the whole Hollywood strand for laughs - and very clever it is at times - it smoothly switches into a tense and thrilling escape attempt.
FINAL CUT 4 Smart and exciting spy thriller
Meal deal... John Goodman and Ben Affleck discuss the escape plan