10/19/2012 05:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: Argo

Film: Argo (2012)
Cast includes: Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting), Brian Cranston (Breaking Bad), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski)
Director: Ben Affleck (The Town)
Genre: Thriller/Drama, based on actual events (120 minutes)

Using movie storyboards, we get a quick history lesson on the Persian Empire, a.k.a. Iran, which brings us to 1979... Ayatollah Khomeini's back and the Shah is exiled. On October 22nd, the U.S. allows the Shah to come to the Mayo Clinic for cancer treatments. On November 4th the riots outside the American embassy in Tehran are getting even bigger. When the rioters manage to get over the walls, those inside know they need to get out fast. In a chaotic exit, they burn and shred as many documents as they can, and six of 60 diplomats manage to escape out the back. The six find refuge at the home of the Canadian Ambassador, where they hope to wait out the storm. But things only escalate when the U.S. refuses to hand over the Shah. In the meantime, Iranian children are employed to go through mounds of shredded documents and attempt to reassemble the shreds in search of useful information. How long before they figured out that six are missing? "When these people die, they die badly."

Back at CIA headquarters, "exfiltration" specialist Tony Mendez is called into a meeting to plan a hostage rescue. The higher-ups already have some plans and are surprised when Mendez opposed them. "Look, it's 300 miles to the nearest boarder, and it won't be long before the Iranians realize they're six short of a full deck. The only way out is the airport." When asked about his plan, Mendez doesn't have one. It isn't until he and his son are watching Planet of the Apes that Mendez gets an idea of having the diplomats pose as a Canadian film crew. Higher-ups never really buy into the idea, partly because it seems too flamboyant. But Mendez feels it had to be flamboyant to be believed. With a tentative green light, Mendez contacts Hollywood makeup artist, John Chambers. It turns out making a fake movie requires more than just makeup. That brings in producer Lester Siegel. "We did suicide missions in the army that had better odds than this," he says. "We're gonna need a script." The script Argo, a sci-fi fantasy with exotic Middle Eastern sets, looks perfect.

In 1997, the top-secret documents about the mission were declassified. Even though we now know how it all ended, this film is a full-on, heart-thumping suspense trip. It was the only bright spot in the 444-day hostage crisis that helped derail the Carter presidency. At every turn there are major obstacles... and meanwhile, the Iranians are piecing together shreds of embassy documents and getting increasingly hostile. Some comic relief is provided by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, playing the Hollywood movie guys, but most of the film is pure adrenalin rush. Although some of the actual events have been simplified for narrative flow, the look and feel of Argo is very realistic -- and totally 1979. In fact, if you stay for the credits, you'll see side-by-side photo comparisons, along with comments from President Carter. Anyway, the movie scam only needs to work for two days, but that said, there is a lot that could go wrong. "You really believe your little story is going to make a difference when there's a gun to our heads?" "My little story's the only thing between you and a gun to your head."

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
A CIA specialist comes up with a plan to rescue hostages from Iran by disguising them as a Canadian film crew.

Popcorn Profile
Rated: R (Language, violence)
Audience: Young adults and grown-ups
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Pure adrenalin rush
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Not that kind of film
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative

Read more Popcorn Previews at

You may also want to read about other historic-based dramas:

Charlie Wilson's War

Enemy at the Gate

The Winslow Boy

The World's Fastest Indian