The plot of "Argo" -- the CIA fakes filming a science-fiction movie to get Americans out of Iran in 1979 -- sounds like a rejected plot line for "Mission: Impossible." If the new film weren't based on a real story, the audacity and absurdity of what transpires would be almost too ridiculous even in a fictional story.
In 1979, while the world watched as Iranians held 52 Americans captive, another story was unfolding behind the scenes. Six Americans escaped and found secret sanctuary in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing their presence would eventually be discovered, the CIA faces a short window of time to get the group to safety. The big question is how to accomplish what seems like the impossible.
After multiple rescue scenarios are suggested and rejected, agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the outlandish plan to create the illusion that he's part of a group looking to shoot a feature film in Iran. He would go in alone, but would leave Iran with the six under the guise of them being Canadian members of the film crew.
The only way this plot had a chance of working was if the CIA actually started the process of making the film, from setting up a production office in Hollywood to buying the options to a real sci-fi script.
"Argo" is a lot like "Apollo 13" in that the outcome of the real story is public record. Despite that knowledge, Affleck manages to create unrelenting tension and suspense that turns what could have been a silly spy story into an edge-of-your seat thriller with room left over from some top notch character studies.
Even with all of his work as the director, Affleck finds time to mount a solid performance as the CIA agent. Most movie spies are men of mystery, but Affleck sprinkles in just enough information about Mendez's personal life to make his fate important.
Other strong performances come from Bryan Cranston as the CIA boss who isn't the stereotypical administrator who plays by the books, and Alan Arkin as the veteran Hollywood producer who gives the plan the credibility it needs to have any hope of working.
Affleck has shown again with his solid direction of "Argo" that's he's not just another actor who wants to sit in the director's chair. His latest work is a brilliant blend of a first-rate story delivered with skill and attention to detail. He always get the most out of his actors, story and visuals.
While the plot of "Argo" sounds too unbelievable to be true, this fact-based story ends up as both compelling and as exciting as any adventure James Bond ever had.
"Argo," rated R for language, violent images. Stars Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Crans-ton, Tate Donovan. Directed by Ben Affleck. Running time: 2 hours. Grade: A- | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.