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Argo

Ben Affleck directs a smart thriller about an unlikely rescue

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After all these years, Ben Affleck is still a listless actor. But he's a terrific director, and in Argo, he's done it again, albeit with less depth and substance than in his first two films. 

It's a true-enough story about something that really happened: Posing as a Canadian filmmaker, a CIA agent (Affleck) got six Americans out of Tehran in 1980 after an angry mob of "students" stormed our embassy and held its occupants hostage for 444 days, a siege that gave us, more or less, the Reagan presidency.

Argo begins with a concise documentary lesson that reminds us of how America installed and supported the sanguinary Shah. Then, with touches of character and humor, Affleck recounts the details of an imaginative rescue. At times he's too slick and stagy, and his last half hour is empty suspense. But he lands some good cracks about Hollywood, and the emotions feel real enough even in thriller mode. 

Affleck cast pros like John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston in key roles and directed them to low-keyed performances. His film isn't overtly political, although a preview audience gave the climactic escape a big American cheer — apparently having already forgotten how our foreign policy got us into the mess in the first place.

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