Argo reviews

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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Sabin » Mon Nov 12, 2012 12:26 am

Wes, I too view the events as that, but forgive me but where is that in the film?

If Argo the film truly is this grab bag of interpretive historical/contemporary contextualization, then I'm not seeing it. I understand what Marco is saying about the images of the American flag and the siege of the embassy, but I reject the notion that it's a work of American propaganda first and vindication of the Carter administration second.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Mon Nov 12, 2012 12:05 am

While some in the U.S. may take it away as a triumph of America. I saw something different.

I saw a situation that was created by the U.S. Historically, it explained how Iran was beginning to build a self-sufficient country and the U.S. didn't want them to control their own oil, so they installed a puppet leader who then abused and manipulated his country until they rebelled. What happened to the Americans in the embassy was a DIRECT RESULT of our own failures as a country. The end result, yes it is triumphant and that's certainly a strong American sentiment; however, let's not forget that the U.S. government was going to pull the plug on the operation and leave 7 Americans to die to protect their fragile attempts at saving the other hostages. The ONLY reason it was a success was not because of America, but because of ONE man who realized they could still make it. Yes, Carter had to directly approve the finalization of the mission, but up to that point, there was no such guarantee.

Yes, Americans tend to be celebratory of their successes and yes, it feeds a strong, unnecessary ego; however, if people take just a fraction of the implication that the U.S. sticks its hands into foreign affairs to the detriment of its citizens, then perhaps it's more noble pursuit. Let's face it, Affleck's a smart filmmaker and a liberal. He knew precisely what he was doing in framing the film as a narrow victory over a botched handling of foreign affairs.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Sabin » Sun Nov 11, 2012 7:55 pm

You're dismissing my argument on the basis of the fact that you're a foreigner so you might not view it the same way that I do AND based on your assertions that it was "made for today's audience and, while it may be about some obscure events of the past, it's also about the present".

I do not care about what today's audiences view the film as. Clearly, clearly, clearly one of Ben Affleck's primary goals in the making of this film -- if not the primary goal -- is to vindicate President Carter's handling of a crisis for which he was condemned as an utter failure. Ben Affleck has made this film to get history right, a history that has judged President Carter's handling as one of said utter failure. And in turn, I am giving you the same explanation that you would give me if we were talking about a movie set during a specific time during your country's history. This film absolutely wants to vindicate Carter's foreign policy. That's why President Carter himself speaks over the credits. That's why the film closes with the title about the release of the hostages coinciding with the election of Ronald Reagan. That's why the film cuts back to the Democratic Primaries depicting Jimmy Carter's struggle to retain the Presidency against an insurgent campaign by Teddy Kennedy. It's not about Carter but it seeks to validate Carter's administration. Ben Affleck is may be an American, but he is an explicitly political American with a clear liberal agenda.

I don't care about getting into a conversation about how because Americans are stupid that means that this film must in turn be in turn stupid itself. I do think the film has some xenophobic tendencies. I do not think these xenophobic tendencies extend to the storming of the embassy.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Nov 11, 2012 7:03 pm

Sabin wrote:I certainly can’t argue with how the film gooses us for xenophobic suspense. I’ve below that the film is technically proficient but thin on conflict. You read the film as pro-America. I viewed the film as pro-Carter. In no way shape or form did I view this film as an American triumph, but as an administrative triumph that they opted to keep secret for ages after. I saw it as an attempt at vindication for a President often portrayed as the epitome of liberal failure, a liberal that the GOP tries to paint every subsequent Democrat as the heir to. So, it’s hard for me to up in arms about a film that portrays Carter-era (an era I wasn’t alive during, admittedly) policies as ultimately successful.


Well, it's possible that for Americans this can also be about Carter - obviously as a foreigner I didn't get that... Still, I mean, let's face it, it's the American flag, not the Carter flag, which is first trampled on by those evil barbarians and then proudly waved by the wind at the end when that perfect American family reunites (and we are told during the end credits that they have been happily together since). Also... I don't know - I've met many Americans, young Americans even... and they don't seem to be that expert on their own recent history (I often know far more about it than they do) - do they even know who Carter was? Don't get me wrong, but I doubt. I really, really do.

And most importantly, a movie is made for today's audience and, while it may be about some obscure events of the past, it's also about the present - ANY movie, not just this one of course. And right now the situation between America and the Muslim world, and with Iran especially, is so complicated, so tense, that this movie is obviously a reassuring answer to a country tormented by guilt, self-doubts, and fear. The parties for Bin Laden's murder, it seems, are now over.

It's not a bad movie, and it's less insulting than others about the same issues... but it's not about Jimmy Carter. Not at all.

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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Sabin » Sun Nov 11, 2012 6:38 pm

I certainly can’t argue with how the film gooses us for xenophobic suspense. I’ve below that the film is technically proficient but thin on conflict. You read the film as pro-America. I viewed the film as pro-Carter. In no way shape or form did I view this film as an American triumph, but as an administrative triumph that they opted to keep secret for ages after. I saw it as an attempt at vindication for a President often portrayed as the epitome of liberal failure, a liberal that the GOP tries to paint every subsequent Democrat as the heir to. So, it’s hard for me to up in arms about a film that portrays Carter-era (an era I wasn’t alive during, admittedly) policies as ultimately successful.

Argo is a movie that I admire. Clearly no Gone Baby Gone. I resist predictions that give it Best Picture. I can’t/ don’t want to imagine that happening! If the tide turns towards it, I think I’m going to like it a whole lot less.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Nov 11, 2012 6:32 pm

mlrg wrote:
ITALIANO wrote:Ah, and why don't Americans ever make films about their failed rescue missions? There have been many - even in Iran, in that period. But no, they want to win always. At least in movies.


This is a BIG cultural difference between us europeans and americans. We spend too much time asking what went wrong in a certain situation instead of replicating our succeses. We like the downside of things.



I know. And I personally like our approach to things better, honestly. For at least three reasons: it helps to prevent us from making the same mistakes, it makes us a less competitive society because we know that one can't win forever and, more generally, makes us more subtle in examining issues. The next time I see an American flag in a movie I'll shout, really.

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Re: Argo reviews

Postby mlrg » Sun Nov 11, 2012 6:00 pm

ITALIANO wrote:Ah, and why don't Americans ever make films about their failed rescue missions? There have been many - even in Iran, in that period. But no, they want to win always. At least in movies.


This is a BIG cultural difference between us europeans and americans. We spend too much time asking what went wrong in a certain situation instead of replicating our succeses. We like the downside of things.

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Re: Argo reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Nov 11, 2012 4:03 pm

This is a time when one has to be grateful to Americans for having spared the world (and, of course, themselves) a Mitt Romney, so I won't be too tough with Argo, which is after all an efficient piece of entertainment. As well made as the movie undeniably is, though, it's still pure American propaganda - and the reassuring presence of the American flag at the end makes this even too evident. Needless to say, the American flag isn't reassuring at all to me (and, I'm sure, countless others who live abroad) - I find it quite threatening actually, I've seen it too often waved for the wrong reasons, in the wrong places. And unlike - I guess - Americans I don't find anything dangerous or evil at the sight of crowded Middle Eastern streets or bazaars, or at the voice of a muezzin's call to prayer. I actually like those. But the way they are used in this movie to provide xenophobic reactions from the audience it is directed at is, well, kind of amusing really. At least they are never called Arabs. Technically, the movie is very good, very well edited - but Ben Affleck's best movie is still his first, and this isn't the direction one wants him to take. There is, I'm sure, a potentially sensitive filmmaker there, not just a skilled technician, and even in this movie some very small roles are treated with a certain insight and perception. We'll see.

Ah, and why don't Americans ever make films about their failed rescue missions? There have been many - even in Iran, in that period. But no, they want to win always. At least in movies.

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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Sabin » Sat Oct 20, 2012 11:22 pm

For a possible Best Picture front-runner, I have very little to say about Argo. And that’s both a good and bad thing. I liked it. It's a solid piece of entertainment.

It doesn’t have the lingering pull of Gone Baby Gone, which I was thinking about for days and days after. It doesn’t have any of the idiosyncratic touches that elevated The Town. So in that sense, it’s a bit sad that Argo is going to likely nab Ben Affleck his first Best Director nomination because this is a work of a production. There are myriad strong, strong choices in the film. It’s possible that William Goldenberg will win the Oscar for editing this film, and he’ll deserve it. But some of these cuts are clearly the work of Affleck. The way he’ll end a scene with a cup of coffee and start a new one with a tray of cigarettes (or something like that, I’m not off by much). That’s not editing, that’s just a creative mind at work trying to take us from scene to scene. He also does a great job of conveying both the intimacy of these escaped Americans as well as the imposition of the national scale. Sometimes he is a little too obvious with using this as a ticking clock.

I think the biggest problem in Argo is that the actual espionage is a bit dull in the middle. The start of it? Fine. The way Tony comes up with a plan while watching the same broadcast of Battle of the Planet of the Apes that his son is? Played note-perfect. The Hollywood stuff? A lot of fun. And then when he goes to Iran? Well, not really a ton happens until they make the break for it. Everyone involved is very conscientious of how to effectively earn the breakneck pace that William Goldenberg sets, but it’s a bit modest in the middle. The finale dash to the airport is quite suspenseful though. The crowd in my audience cheered.

Part of me wishes I just stuck to my initial answer. I liked it. But I’d be stunned, stunned, stunned if it won Best Picture.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 08, 2012 3:51 pm

Screen Daily

Argo
6 September, 2012 | By Tim Grierson


Dir: Ben Affleck. US. 2012. 120mins


A skilfully made grownup entertainment, Argo combines an incredible true story with crafty thriller conventions to produce a crowd-pleasing drama that should go down easy with Oscar voters. Argo represents another step forward for director Ben Affleck, and while its polished professionalism doesn’t negate the film’s flaws, the precision of its set pieces and the confidence of its execution are almost as convincing as the unlikely scam the movie’s heroes pull off.

As he demonstrated with The Town, Affleck has a knack for tight, gripping action sequences.
After its stops at Telluride and Toronto, Argo will open in the US on October 12, when it (like Affleck’s previous directorial effort, The Town) will try to snag both box office and award consideration. Positive word of mouth out of fall festivals will no doubt help the cause, and Affleck’s appearance in front of the camera should also prove a commercial boost.

This Warner Bros. offering is based on the 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Iran by militants, which forced six staff members to seek refuge in the Canadian embassy. With the Iranian Revolution raging and the American staffers in danger, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) hatched a desperate plan: Work with a Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and Oscar-winning makeup artist (John Goodman) to concoct a fake sci-fi movie and convince the Iranian authorities that the Americans are actually part of a Canadian film crew in Iran to scout locations.

As preposterous as that plan sounds, Argo documents real events. (Argo takes its name from the sci-fi film, although, amusingly, no one seems to know what the title means.) Affleck finds room in his thriller to acknowledge just how ludicrous this covert operation really was, and as a result, Argo is something of a comedic heist film, with the first half concentrated on Mendez’s journey to Los Angeles to get together his creative team for the phoney film and then the second half devoted to his trip to Tehran to bring the Americans home.

Initially, there’s a good deal of humour at the expense of Hollywood’s mendacity and phoniness — some of which tends to be a little too backslapping and self-congratulatory — but soon the film becomes more anxious, and Affleck smoothly navigates the tonal shift from satiric to suspenseful.

As he demonstrated with The Town, Affleck has a knack for tight, gripping action sequences, and Argo boasts three: the opening siege of the US embassy, and then two during Mendez’s time in Iran, including a harrowing escape attempt. Without relying on frenetic editing gimmicks or overblown violence, Affleck adroitly executes each sequence, nicely building tension with intelligence and restraint.

If there’s a major quibble with the film, it’s that Argo’s clockwork-like efficiency sacrifices character depth. Affleck gives a soulful, understated performance as Mendez, a man whose commitment to his country has wrecked his family, but beyond the actor’s inherent sincerity, the character is mysterious in a way that suggests a lack of script development rather than an intriguing artistic choice. (Argo is the first produced full-length screenplay from Chris Terrio.) The same problem afflicts the imperilled Americans, despite the best efforts of Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane and their cast mates. Affleck has done a robust job making a movie about their rescue, but his film doesn’t do much to really get to know them.

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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:37 am

Argo: Telluride Review
12:57 AM PDT 9/1/2012 by Todd McCarthy
Hollywood Reporter


Argo is a crackerjack political thriller told with intelligence, great period detail and a surprising amount of nutty humor for a serious look at the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. Proving even more than before that he’s a behind-the-camera force to be reckoned with, Ben Affleck tells a dense, multi-layered yarn “based on a declassified true story” with confidence and finesse, while its unlikely Hollywood angle will make the industry home town crowd feel proud of itself. From all points of view, this is one the major releases of the fall season.

The current perilous state of U.S.-Iranian relations can only heighten the interest and relevance of this fascinating sideshow to the main event, as a reminder of a dire turning point in modern history for those old enough to remember it and as a pertinent history lesson for people under 35. The truth about the “best bad idea” the CIA could concoct to rescue six U.S. Embassy workers who had escaped the compound was unknown until 1997 and even then did not receive enormous publicity.

A stylishly succinct prologue made up cartoons and documentary footage lays out in simple terms what led up to the departure of the Western-supported Shah and the advent of the Ayatollah Khomeini and fundamentalist Islam in Iran in 1979. Visceral scenes convey the desperation of American Embassy workers to burn or shred sensitive documents before the raging mobs break through the gates and invade the premises, where they quickly take 52 hostages.

But more than two months later, the Iranians still don’t realize that six Americans managed to slip out and take refuge in the still operating Canadian Embassy. With his CIA colleagues at a loss to figure out how to sneak the six out of Iran, bearded, longish-haired agent Tony Mendez, who has already extricated some of the Shah’s cronies out of the country, happens to catch a bit of Battle for the Planet of the Apes on TV and hatches a scheme both bird-brained and brilliant: He’ll approach the series’ prosthetics expert (real-life Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers, wonderfully played by John Goodman) to help set up a phony science fiction project with sufficient plausible reality that he might be able to get the six out of Iran posing as Canadian production personnel who’d been on a location scout.

Thus follows a most amusing Hollywood interlude for which the cynical remarks of a veteran producer with some time on his hands, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin at his deadpan best), set the absurdly funny tone. Lester insists that the picture must appear to have a degree legitimacy to it, so an existing Star Wars-type rip-off script called Argo is purchased, a reading is held at the Beverly Hilton with costumed actors and ads are prepared.

So while Lester cracks that, “We had suicide missions in the Army that had better odds than this,” the CIA, fronted here by Mendez’s boss Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), surprisingly approves what it calls “The Hollywood Option.” The necessary doctored passports in hand, Mendez heads for the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, where he meets six fellow Americans who are scared stiff.

The final act of the highly skilled screenplay by Chris Terrio, whose principal previous credit is for directing the little-seen 2005 film Heights, ramps things up from cold sweat tension to seconds-ticking suspense in traditional movie-movie fashion, even down to a pretty implausible but undeniably exciting climactic chase. It would be a major surprise indeed to learn that things actually went down just as they are shown to have done here. But if you want a strictly factual account, you’d probably rather be watching a documentary, which Argo decidedly is not.

Still, the film goes to great lengths to achieve an authentic feel and an outstanding sense of period. Turkey ably stands in for Iran in crucial exteriors, the many phones, communication and copying machines are right and the fashions, from the tacky casual wear sported by most characters to the outsized glasses frames, are spot-on in their infinite hideousness. The old Warner logo from the period is used upfront and the studio’s famous water tower has even been relabeled to duplicate its look at the time. Rodrigo Prieto’s superior cinematography affects a deliberately grubby look entirely in keeping with locations and desired feel of sweaty squalor.

Evocative use is made of TV news clips, from Mike Wallace’s in-person interview with Khomeini to glimpses of the very young-looking Ted Koppel and Tom Brokaw. Small details are telling, such as how an Iranian passport official crosses out “Kingdom of Iran” on a form and scrawls in “Republic” instead, and how a British Airways flight attendant announces the end of alcoholic beverage service once the plane enters Iranian air space.

Although the dramatic conclusion comes as no real surprise and represents the merest drop of cheer in a sea of unpleasantness between the United States and Iran over the past 33 years, it nonetheless delivers a strong charge of honest emotion, especially surprising for what in format is a genre film. The final explanations of how the real story of the mission was finally revealed includes a voice-over by Jimmy Carter, who was president when it all took place.

Except for the showier turns by Arkin and Goodman, the performances are credibly utilitarian, led by Affleck as a smart agent who has learned not to tip his hand through outward displays. Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s boss and Victor Garber as the stalwart Canadian ambassador are similarly solid and unostentatious.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:34 am

The penultimate paragraph (which may be a spoiler) is intriguing. Whether Affleck really pulls it off is another question. I'd very much like to see if he succeeds.

And I feel so bad for Clint. It's starting already...

Argo
By Peter Debruge
Variety


These days, the perception is that when Hollywood types want to get political, they write checks or talk to chairs. But back in 1980, makeup artist John Chambers and a special-effects colleague went above and beyond, assisting the CIA to invent a phony film production as a front for a daring hostage rescue in Iran. Declassified after 18 years, "Argo" is the gripping story of how Hollywood helped save the day. White-knuckle tense and less self-congratulatory than it sounds, Ben Affleck's unexpectedly comedic third feature has the vital elements to delight adult auds, judging by the enthusiastic response to this Oct. 12 release's Telluride sneak.

Intercutting faux newsreel footage with an energetic widescreen restaging of the Nov. 4, 1979, storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by angry militants, "Argo" gets the pulse racing from the start, conveying the panic foreign service workers felt at the scene. (A brief historical prologue reminds viewers of the CIA-backed coup that put the Shah in power in Iran, and how the Iranians felt justified in their actions after the U.S. offered amnesty to the then-deposed Shah.) While most of the embassy staff scrambled to destroy files, six Americans snuck out a side door and found shelter in the Canadian embassy, where they remained trapped for months.

Halfway across the world, a phone rings and a bearded but otherwise relaxed-looking Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) stirs into action. When the U.S. government needs an extractor, Mendez is the man they call, and though he's never left anyone behind, the obstacles have never been greater than they are in extracting six Americans from revolutionary Iran.

Mendez' scheme involves posing as a film producer scouting a location in Iran. He intends to set up a production office there, and even buys a trade ad in Variety to establish legitimacy. Then, he goes in alone, aiming to return with the six refugees (technically not hostages, since they weren't captured like those trapped for 444 days in the U.S. Embassy) role-playing as his film crew.

It's a kooky idea that sounds all the more hilarious every time a new character repeats it, as Chambers (John Goodman) and veteran producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) incredulously do in Hollywood, each surrounded by the kitsch of their trade. Historically speaking, Chambers was the makeup pro who applied Spock's ears on "Star Trek," while Siegel is a fictional character based on Chambers' actual accomplice, effects guru Bob Sidell, who worked on the movie "E.T." Still, Arkin's caricature makes for good comedy, as the ex-player takes the CIA meeting before stepping out to collect another lifetime achievement award to add to his already overcrowded mantel.

Terrio delivers a script that crackles with Paddy Chayefsky-like acerbity in parts, and includes plenty of punchy patter. Affleck has charm and a frat-boy bravado that works great in the film's lighter moments as a con-man yarn. But the star may be the one dubious casting choice in an all-around stellar ensemble, coming across far softer as Mendez than the script demands. When the character introduces his plan to State Dept. officials by saying that extraction operations "are like abortions -- you don't want to need one, but when you do, you don't want to do it yourself," it's a line that takes brass balls to deliver, and the actor lacks the cowboy conviction to sell it.

Much of "Argo" -- named for the fake sci-fi production -- comes from well-researched fact, meticulously translated into richly textured retro-looking sets by production designer Sharon Seymour, captured with nostalgic '80s-styled cinematography by d.p. Rodrigo Prieto -- the production team's detailed work underscored by an end-credits slide show (and an interview with former President Jimmy Carter conducted by Affleck) that depicts characters and scenes alongside their real-life counterparts. Still, the script takes its share of liberties to amplify either the tension or the satire, as when Siegel buys the rights to "Argo" (which Chambers already owned) from a rival producer.

For the breath-stopping final act, the film rewrites history so that Iranian intelligence figures out Mendez's plan at a particularly awkward moment (in fact, the operation had a far quieter denouement). But the change not only makes for a thrilling finale (one that Telluride auds gave a spontaneous ovation), it corrects the uncomfortably xenophobic way every Iranian is shown in the movie, and suggests they were at least as smart as Mendez.

Ultimately, the thrill of "Argo" is in watching how the illusion-making of movies found such an unlikely application on the world political stage, where the stakes were literally life and death. Not only did Mendez have to manufacture the artifice of a nonexistent film, but the American embassy workers were required to become actors overnight, pretending to be film professionals lest they be found out and executed.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:03 am

OscarGuy wrote:It was bound to happen sooner or later. After two strong prior efforts, I think the Academy may finally be ready to admit that Affleck is a fine director. It seems strange that it took him so long considering people like Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson were nominated for lesser efforts than Gone Baby Gone. Of course, GBG is a genre thriller whereas Dances and Braveheart were "important" films.


That they made a lot more money than GBG - especially Dances With Wolves - was likely a factor as well.

But at least you can take comfort in knowing that they weren't nominated for anything since then. I know I do.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Sat Sep 01, 2012 7:29 am

It was bound to happen sooner or later. After two strong prior efforts, I think the Academy may finally be ready to admit that Affleck is a fine director. It seems strange that it took him so long considering people like Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson were nominated for lesser efforts than Gone Baby Gone. Of course, GBG is a genre thriller whereas Dances and Braveheart were "important" films. This is finally a genre that the Academy has and doesn't mind recognizing: period thrillers based on real life stories. I've had this and Affleck on my list of potential nominees since we did our first list in May. I've had Argo down as a Best Picture nominee since our August update. Other than Jeffrey Wells being the lone anti-voice, it seems like it's being received very well in the blogosphere. And a lot of people that I've read don't seem to care much for Wells.
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Re: Argo reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Sat Sep 01, 2012 6:49 am

Scott Feinberg, The Hollywood Reporter:

"[The audience gave] it a 30-second sustained ovation. They also separately applauded when Affleck's credit appeared -- he not only directed but also stars in the film -- and also when the names of Oscar-winner Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who play key supporting characters in the film, flashed on the screen."

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:

"Equally a slick political thriller, intelligent period piece and sly Hollywood satire, Ben Affleck's 'Argo' maintains a careful balance between commentary and entertainment value."

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist:

"Extraordinarily suspenseful, extremely well-told and effortless in its complex tonal balance, the Telluride Film Festival couldn't have asked for a better opener; a captivating and thoughtful true-life drama that boasts a story so astonishing, it could only be told in the movies."

Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood:

"The buzz was building on this taut and commercial thriller, which Affleck directs with screw-tightening efficiency that would make Michael Mann proud. Multiple Oscar nominations are in order as this movie surges to the top of the current Oscar contenders list."

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere:

"Somebody tweeted 'instant Best Picture contender!' after it was over. Really? Brilliantly suspenseful as the last act is, 'Argo,' boiled down, is just a clever, well-jiggered caper film. Hats off but why does it have to be a Best Picture contender? A story well told and highly suspenseful, for sure, but there's no thematic undertow, no metaphor tug -- nothing more than "this is what really happened, and wasn't it cool that the CIA pulled this off?" Yes, it was cool... but Best Picture contenders are about common chords and universality and shared emotional discovery, and that is not what 'Argo' is up to."
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