(1) “Affleck’s period drama, set during the 1979 and ’80 Iran hostage crisis and based on fact, is a partly light-hearted, partly riveting drama about the rescuing of six American foreign-service workers who had taken shelter in Tehran’s Canadian embassy after the storming of the U.S. embassy and the taking of hostages. An enterprising CIA guy named Tony Mendez (Affleck) devises a plan to hoodwink Iranian officials into believing that these six are filmmakers looking to use Iranian locations for a fake, cheesy-sounding sci-fi film called Argo.
(2) “Argo starts out as a somber docu-drama, and then shifts into a kind of flip jocular vein (especially with the appearance of John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a couple of Hollywood operators who assist Affleck in creating the backstory for the phony film), and then somber again and then sad and then revved again and then really, really tense. In short, it’s smart and absorbing for first two-thirds to three-quarters, but it’s the suspenseful final act that brings it home.
(3) Affleck’s direction “is clean and concise and doesn’t waste time or footage. The screenplay by Chris Terrio is aces. And the cast hits nothing but true notes — Affleck as Mendez, Bryan Cranston as his CIA boss, Arkin and Goodman as the Hollywooders, Victor Garber as Iran’s Canadian ambassador who protected the six when they were hiding in his residence, and Kyle Chandler as the late Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff. And Argo delivers superb period detail all the way through — technology, cars, clothes, haircuts, everything.
(4) “It’s a good, smart, satisfying adult thriller — a story well told and highly suspenseful, for sure. It’s pleasing to see a tough situation resolved through ingenuity and guts, and I’m sure it’ll wind up as a Best Picture contender. I don’t happen to think it’s finally one for the ages, but that’s me. Argo is a well-crafted, highly satisfying caper film with a certain patriotic resonance that basically says ‘job well done, guys…you should be proud.'”
(5) “Argo is further proof that Affleck has clearly, seriously upped his directing game. He really is the new Sydney Pollack, and I say that as someone who knew, enjoyed, occasionally chatted with and deeply respected the director of Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, The Yakuza, Out of Africa, The Firm, The Way We Were, etc.
(6) “But it’s basically a movie designed to enthrall, charm, amuse, thrill, move and excite. It’s a comfort-blanket movie that basically says ‘this was the problem, and this is how it was solved…and the guys who made it happen deserve our applause and respect…no?’ Yes, they do. But above all Argo aims to please. It skillfully creates suspense elements that probably weren’t that evident when the story actually went down. And it throws in two or three divorced-father-hangs-with-young-son scenes, and some CIA razmatazz and a few ’80s Hollywood cheeseball jokes and lathers it all on.
(7) “Yes, that jacked-up suspense finale that ‘works’ but it doesn’t feel genuine. You know it doesn’t. That last nail-biting bit with the police cars hot-dogging the departing jet on the Tehran airport runway? Standard Hollywood bullshit.
(8) “If I was a high-school teacher and Argo was a term paper, I would give it an 87 or 88. Okay, an 89. It’s obviously good, but it doesn’t exude paralyzing greatness. Like many highly regarded Hollywood films, it adheres to familiar classic centrist entertainment values…and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s very pleasing thing, but it’s a caper film. Boil it down and it’s Ocean’s 11 set in Washington, D.C., L.A. and Tehran of 1978 and ’89 without the money or the flip glamorous vibe or the Clooney-Pitt-Damon-Cheadle combustion.”