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Argo

Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston | R |

THRILLER

Should you ever doubt the magic of Hollywood, look to Argo. The film tells the astonishing (and mostly true) story of how the CIA and the movie business helped save six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980. The crackerjack script doubles as a nerve-jangling thriller and an arch comedy. And the director? He might be the slyest trick of all, having transformed himself from a meathead bully in Dazed and Confused into one of the best filmmakers of his generation.

Affleck directs himself in a restrained performance as CIA agent Tony Mendez, an “exfiltration” expert with Doobie Brother hair and an egregiously silly plan: Rescue the Americans, who are holed up in the home of the Canadian ambassador, by posing them as sci-fi filmmakers. Mendez enlists a special-effects guru (Goodman) and a producer (a wonderfully hammy Alan Arkin) to add real-and by real I mean fake-Hollywood luster to the enterprise. It’s hilarious, until the film reminds us that lives are on the line.

Historians (and some none-too-happy Canadians) can argue about the accuracy of Argo’s final act. I’m here to tell you it’s some of the tensest, finest footage on screen this year, with an ending that’s overwhelming, even if you know the history. There’s only one thing you can call that: magic.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO ALYNDA: alyndasreviews@peoplemag.com