"Argo" is based on true events lifted from the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis. It's generally known that 52 men and women were held in the American embassy for 444 days. The event captured the attention of the world, triggered a failed rescue attempt, and, it could be argued, ended the presidency of Jimmy Carter.
What is not generally known is that six embassy staff managed to escape before the Embassy was overrun, taking refuge in the residence of the Canadian ambassador. Should their whereabouts have been discovered, it was almost certain that they would have been executed.
The CIA and the State Department, upon learning about the six, begin to run various escape scenarios, all of them with a low probability for success. It was then that they reach out to Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a specialist in exfiltration and disguise.
Mendez comes up with a plan so outlandish that his bosses thought it just might work. The idea is to bring the six out, disguised as a Canadian film crew, boldly leave through the Mehrabad Airport, holding fake passports, board SwissAir and fly home.
And so begins a riveting and nail-biting drama, capturing moments of tension that crackle on the screen. Affleck, as director, does a superb job of cutting back and forth from the ambassador's residence to the offices of the CIA as the agency struggles with the odds and ultimately second-guesses Mendez.
So extensive and detailed is the plan that a fake movie script is written, a faux production company set up with John Goodman as John Chambers, makeup artist extraordinaire, and Alan Arkin portraying Lester Siegel, film mogul. Both were actual Hollywood veterans, recruited to be the company's ostensible owners.
Quickly, storyboards are created, phone lines laid in, actors hired and auditions take place. The name of the sci-fi flick is "Argo."
Call this an event movie. It's all about the rescue, and, of course, it's about the remarkable courage of Mendez and the hostages. Every minute is a roll of the dice, the outcome uncertain. And almost from the get-go, the Iranians are in the hunt, soon mere steps behind.
Can they sell the idea that they are filmmakers scouting locations to the Iranians — paranoid, caught up in a revolutionary fervor, all in the hunt for Americans — or will the ruse fail?
Affleck has evolved into a superb filmmaker, following the path of Clint Eastwood. His first films, "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town," proved a solid start. "Argo" is his best work yet, restrained and taut. As is his performance.
There are seven psychopaths in "Seven Psychopaths," though it feels like there are more. In fact this vignette-driven film is replete with head cases, which are, indeed, its bread and butter. Everyone is a bit (or a lot) bent, even screenwriter Marty Faragan (Colin Farrell) is a paragon of drunken normality compared to the rest of the severely warped.
There really isn't a story with a discernable arc; rather "Seven" is a series of strange and peculiar set pieces, led by Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken), two dognappers who steal dogs and then return them for a reward. It's a living, says Hans.
They err big time when they snatch a sweet little Shih Tzu called Bonny, a dust mop of a dog, belonging to one of the meta psychopaths, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson).
If there's any glue holding "Seven Psychopaths" together, it's Bonny, the furry little McGuffin who appears throughout as the homicidal Costello racks up the body count desperately trying to get his pooch back.
The film is a bungy jump down the rabbit hole, or a freefall into an interesting, awful, manic movie within a movie, unlike anything anticipated. The violence is ratcheted up in a weird, surreal way, laced with low-level comedic moments. The audience? Fans of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."
"Seven" is, however, filled with outrageously good performances, to include Walken (does anyone do strange better?) and Rockwell, both a perfect fit for this riff of a film.