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Andy Bockelman: ‘Argo’ a smart tale of long-held secrets

CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) briefs American diplomats on his agenda in “Argo.” The movie is about the CIA’s efforts to covertly smuggle six members of the United States Embassy in Iran out of the country following the 1979 revolution.

CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) briefs American diplomats on his agenda in “Argo.” The movie is about the CIA’s efforts to covertly smuggle six members of the United States Embassy in Iran out of the country following the 1979 revolution.

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

If you go

Film: “Argo”

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Run time: 120 minutes

Starring: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston

Playing now at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas

— Good ideas that work out exactly as planned are a dime a dozen. A bad idea that only gets worse as it goes — now that’s something special. Crazy concepts that couldn’t really work in real life are the bread and butter of “Argo,” but one look at the movie proves truth really is stranger than fiction.

While Americans are on edge during the weeks of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, what the news didn’t cover was the story of a few embassy workers who escaped just in time to seek refuge at the Tehran home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The half-dozen people since have gone unnoticed by the revolutionaries, but it’s only a matter of time before they track them down, making their rescue of the utmost priority.

That’s where CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes in, formulating the best way to smuggle the six Americans out of Iran. Working against the clock to come up with a feasible cover story, Mendez stumbles across the idea of liberating the stranded diplomats under the guise of a Canadian film crew scouting Middle Eastern locations.

However, such a plan involves a lot of legwork to ensure the deception appears authentic, and even with the help of some Hollywood insiders (John Goodman, Alan Arkin), Mendez barely can convince his superiors that he’ll be able to pull off such a task let alone convince the people whose lives are in his hands.

Affleck may have gotten a lot of flak as an actor earlier in his career, but these days, he can command your attention with the steady voice and cool head of someone who knows what he’s doing in saving the lives of others.

Goodman is a worthy lookalike of legendary makeup artist John Chambers, who helps Mendez get his foot in the door, and Arkin is at his cantankerous best as aging producer Lester Siegel, who sets up the façade of “Argo,” a science fiction B-movie hyped to be the next “Star Wars.”

Bryan Cranston has some good moments as Tony’s boss, who must scramble to get things in order from his Langley, Va., office when tactics inevitably are changed thanks to his man in the field calling audibles.

Just as good are the members of the sextet in need of rescuing, including Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Kerry Bishé, Rory Cochrane and Christopher Denham arguably led by Scoot McNairy as the lone dissenter who refuses to believe Mendez’s plan could go off without a hitch.

There’s a very straightforward approach in Chris Terrio’s screenplay, based on Mendez’s memoir “The Master of Disguise” and the 2007 article “The Great Escape,” which divulged for the first time the secrets of the operations, which came to be known as the Canadian Caper to hide the CIA’s involvement.

Affleck’s double duty as director and actor keeps the story as briskly paced and intently focused as that of his character as Mendez tries to pull off the impossible. He captures the time period masterfully: the fury on the streets of Tehran, the hostage crisis becoming the dominant feature on all the networks and the sense that this wouldn’t be the last bit of trouble the U.S. would have from that part of the world.

Segments of archival footage of the revolution give an extra layer of immersion, but there’s a truly unique touch in the opening credits, which give a brief history of Iran in the form of detailed movie storyboards similar to those drawn by comic book god Jack Kirby for the feature, which never came to be, figuring prominently into this story.

Affleck has yet to make a bad movie from behind the camera, and “Argo” shows he still has the chops he surprised us with in “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.” Besides being one of the most suspenseful flicks of the year, it’s probably the only time you’ll hear the guy behind the prosthetics of “Planet of the Apes” heralded as one of America’s greatest patriots.

But remember: That’s classified.

Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.

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