To explain: Argo is a 1980-set thriller directed by and starring Baffles as a CIA agent who cooks up a plan to rescue six US embassy staff from certain death in Iran by pretending they're there to make a sci-fi film. Structurally it's almost flawless: the plot unfolds with the pace and style required to make political thrillers a viable option for an audience tempted towards the auditorium next door by James Bond. We're never in any doubt as to the seriousness of the characters' predicament, so that by the time the final-act execution of Baffles' bonkers plan rolls round, we're in for an undeniably tense half hour.
So as an exercise in audience manipulation, Argo is slick and canny. Baffles knows exactly how far to turn the tension crank and when to lay off it. What his screenwriter Chris Terrio hasn't done, though, is imbue the rescuer or the rescuees with much in the way of personality, so while we're hoping they succeed, it's because we care more about the plan than the characters. There are only six of them, yet by the end of the film they're still virtually indistinguishable from each other. There's no conflict between any of them and none of them affect the mission in any way. Even Baffles is a blank canvas, with only the hero's requisite estranged family to give him something to do in the epilogue.
Maybe I'm nitpicking: Argo is based on a true story, so perhaps it would be disingenuous for the film to stray too far from actual events. But when Alan Arkin and John Goodman get all the fun bits to themselves as comedy movie bigwigs apparently parachuted in from a different film, it's hard to understand why nobody else is drawn with equal depth. It's a film about a hostage rescue, but it's way more interested in the rescue than the hostages.
Still, it is great fun, zips along effortlessly and will leave you with a mouthful of fingernails before the end. And if nothing else, it does at least prove that the whole US government is staffed entirely by character actors: