"ARGO" — ★★★ — Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Clea DuVall; R (language and some violent images); in general release
The opening scenes of the new film "Argo" deliver terrifying images of a pulsating, angry mob on the verge of overrunning the American embassy in Tehran.
Filmmakers re-create scenes directly from the front pages of world papers as we witness the scramble going on inside the embassy to secure the site, destroy documents and preserve life. It's chilling.
As the fanatical throngs breach the walls and the buildings, a small group of Americans flee to the streets to seek asylum in another embassy.
They're turned away by the British and, as the movie states it, the New Zealand embassy but finally find sanctuary with the Canadian ambassador.
It's an extremely precarious and dangerous situation not only for the six Americans, but for the ambassador and his wife.
Meanwhile, we know the fate of the others in the American embassy; 52 Americans were held for 444 days, causing an unprecedented diplomatic crisis. But what of the six who took refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home? That's what "Argo" is all about.
When the State Department discovers the situation, plans are floated for their rescue.
Ben Affleck stars as CIA "exfiltration" expert Tony Mendez, who shoots down the plausibility of everything suggested, including passing the six off as teachers and even a strange bicycle rescue. But what he comes up with might be the strangest of all.
The idea? How about involving Hollywood and attempt to liberate the six Americans by including them in a bogus film crew scouting sites in Iran for a bogus sci-fi film? It ends up being described as the best bad idea.
Mendez flies to Hollywood and recruits producer Lester Siegel and makeup artist John Chambers to create the illusion of a real film being produced. Alan Arkin and John Goodman play these two Hollywood insiders who come up with a back story, glitzy parties, ads and stories in the trade publications and, of course, the script titled "Argo." Along with great performances, these two veteran actors deliver some much-needed comic relief.
When the plan is put into motion, it becomes apparent just how many moving parts there are and it's evident that the odds of something going wrong are off the charts.
This is where everyone in the theater begins to hold their breath and grip the armrests.
While Hollywood has certainly taken liberties — and some are dramatic, like the final heart-stopping moments at the Tehran Airport — the core of the story is true and compelling.
Affleck not only stars, but directs and does an admirable job. Be sure to stay through the credits where the story actually continues with information on each of the hostages, how the story was presented to the world at the time and even a voice-over from President Jimmy Carter, who dealt with this nightmare in Iran up until his last day in office.
"Argo" is rated R for language and some violent images; running time: 118 minutes.