Knee-jerk review: "Argo"

1. While we admit to having a special fondness for sweaty political thrillers, that doesn't change the fact that this movie is something of a masterpiece.
2. Yeah, you read that right.
3. Who would have thought that a rather bland, smug actor like Ben Affleck could evolve into so confident and efficient a filmmaker?  We loved Gone Baby Gone, liked The Town (it was a little long), but Argo is his finest to date.  It's becoming a fact that if Affleck directed a movie, you know it'll be good.  It just doesn't make sense.  But it's completely true.
4. We knew how this story ended, but the climax was still almost unbearably suspenseful.  
5. Alan Arkin is a national treasure.  Period.
6. Dig those 1979 wardrobes, man.  Plus, everyone smokes!
7. If you want to know more about this dark chapter of American history, read Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah.  Fascinating, meticulous examination of the experiences of the American hostages.
8. It's hard to imagine people volunteering for these kinds of CIA jobs where it's not an exaggeration to say that they may not come back.
9. The character arc of one of the hostages is completely predictable... and also completely effective.  Sometimes cliches are cliches because they work.
10. The opening sequence depicting the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is chilling.  
11. Bonus points for employing the old oval "W" 1970s-era Warner Bros. logo to open the movie.
12. We have vague recollections of this whole hostage crisis from when we were kids.  There was always that scary stock image used again and again of the one hostage with the big bandage wrapped around his face as a blindfold.  Those people were held for what seemed like forever to us, with the newscasts happily keeping count of the days in captivity.
13. The film is mostly about the brazen operation to extract ("exfil" in the movie's lingo) the hiding diplomats, but it certainly doesn't shy away from suggesting the complicated, ambiguous nature of American foreign policy in the Middle East and the way old choices can become new problems.
14. "This is the best bad idea we have, sir."
15. Four stars.  Go see it.

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