Director/actor Ben Affleck adroitly combines the strength of a sensational, true-life story with relevant, politically charged suspense that's strategically laced with humor -- and the result is intense, exceptionally intelligent entertainment.

Set in 1979 and 1980 in Tehran, during the Iran hostage crisis, the plot revolves around six besieged American Embassy workers who seek refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Knowing that if they're found by the militant Iranians, they'll be executed, along with the ambassador and his wife, the Canadian and American governments, under the direction of then-President Jimmy Carter, turn to a CIA espionage adviser Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston), who calls in covert "extraction" operative Tony Mendez (Affleck). His job is to rescue them -- but how?

Realizing the worldwide appeal of the motion picture industry, Mendez inventively enlists the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), who, in turn, recruits flamboyant producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), who blusters, "If I'm doing a fake movie, it's going to be a fake hit!"

Forming Studio Six Productions, they pretend to be scouting desert locations for an upcoming sci-fi adventure film, touted as "a cosmic conflagration." After forging their Canadian passports, Mendez then has to convince the terrified, bewildered hostages (Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishe) to assume their new aliases and "show biz" identities as director, screenwriter, cinematographer, assistant producer, etc. -- and conduct them out.

Inspired by Joshuah Bearman's Wired magazine article, "The Great Escape," and Antonio J. Mendez' book, "The Master of Disguise," it's been scripted into a dandy, dramatic caper by Chris Terrio and skillfully directed by Affleck ("The Town," "Gone Baby Gone") with meticulous attention to authentic historic detail, intercut with faux newsreel footage, to ensure credibility. Producer collaborators include George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Argo" is a compelling, high-tension 10 -- a terrific thriller!

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