I'm always wary when I hear the phrase "based on a true story" applied to a movie -- it's so broad it can be applied to just about anything -- but in the case of Argo it comes closer than most.  The movie tells the incredible story of a covert rescue amidst an international standoff.

Argo begins with the tense situation between America and Iran in late 1979.  The Iranian Revolution had put the Ayatollah Khomeni in power, and the country's former leader fled to the U.S. -- with Iran demanding his return for trial and execution.  An angry mob overrab the U.S. embassy in Iran, taking the personnel there hostage and claiming they were spies.  However, six Americans managed to escape, hiding out in the home of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).  The six were still in danger, both from the Iranian government that knew six embassy personnel were unaccounted for and from Iranian mobs ready to kill any Americans they find.

The rescue plan for the six comes from CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed Argo): He'll travel to Iran as a Canadian filmaker scouting locations for a sci-fi B-movie called Argo, provides cover stories and forged documents for the six Americans making them out to be his film crew, and they'll all fly out together.   After working with special effects expert John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to build up some real Hollywood buzz for the fake film, Mendez travels to Iran.  But there are numerous dangers, from U.S state department doubts about the plan (Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez' boss, describes it as "the best bad idea we have, by far") to the Iranian government literally piecing together pictures of the six Americans from shredded documents taken from the embassy.  And there's still the very difficult task of getting past customs in Iran to get on a plane and head home...

Argo works well as both a historical document and a drama.  Speaking as someone who was around during the hostage crisis, I can say Argo captures the feel of the time, from the yellow ribbons everywhere in support of the hostages to the inflamatory statement from both the American and Iranian public condemning the other side.  There's not a lot of character development here, but Argo works better as a political and espionage procedural, showing how a desperate plan was put together and executed very quickly.  There's also a surprising amount of humor, namely from Goodman and Arkin as they navigate Mendez through the treacherous world of Hollywood (and their crude, funny slogan for their fake film).  Argo is solid, suspenseful movie magic revolving around a real operation during a tense time in American history.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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