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The pitch for “Argo” is that the CIA develops a crazy plan to get some runaway hostages out of Iran during the hostage crisis. What’s crazy is in particular that the film they pretend to produce is a goofy sci-fi picture that owes a lot to Flash Gordon and involves plenty of funny story boards and a lot of make-up.

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” is actually not very crazy, I found, in playing this through. We have a coherent setup with rather watertight background stories that can be checked by the Iranian authorities, we have a bunch of almost-hostages who are terrified, and also almost petrified while sitting in the care of the Canadian Ambassador. What we do not have, unfortunately, is a proper plan how to play out the drama. The film works its way through the announcements of actions, then through the actions. There are not many surprises, the plan works quite well. The twists and turns we see almost appear to be driven by movie necessities, not so much by the course of actual events. And for once, this film relies very much on the fact that it is based on true events – if you leave that out, it’s just  a bit bonkers.

I am not saying it’s a bad film, but it is a good film that maybe sticks a bit too much to reality to be really cinematic to full effect. I watched it weeks ago, and now what I remember is two moments of drama, one involving a phone ringing in Hollywood, another involving some airplane tickets. Those moments are splendidly directed, Affleck shows how he can build up thrills. During the rest of the film’s considerable playing  time, he plays it a bit too straight, and is a bit too much in love with his own character, the supposed superbrain extraction specialist, rather than introducing us more to what’s happening in the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, the White House, or even the US Embassy where the remaining hostages are kind of forgotten by the script.

Still: an all in all entertaining film depicting some stunning events I had not heard about before. A good bunch of very competent actors (John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and Affleck himself, who I always enjoy watching), playing out a script that is sometimes a tad over-written, but rarely too much so (“This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.” Good for a trailer, though…).

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