"Argo, an action-thriller that boasts impressive acting and directing, is based on a true spy story, "The Canadian Caper."

"Argo," directed by and starring Ben Affleck, tells the story about the United States Central Intelligence Agency bankrolling a fictitious Hollywood movie production to rescue Americans from Iran during the 1979 - '81 hostage crisis when Islamic student militants stormed and took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran.

CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) poses as a Canadian movie producer to scout locations for "Argo," a science-fiction movie.

Six Americans, who found refuge in the home of the Canadian Iranian ambassador in Tehran, are to pose as the Canadian film crew and depart Iran with the CIA agent.

Affleck, screenplay Oscar winner ("Good Will Hunting," 1998), moves on to a bigger canvas from his previous directorial efforts, "The Town "(2010) and "Gone Baby Gone" (2007).

Affleck directs huge and complex scenes depicting Tehran (filmed in Turkey), CIA headquarters, the White House and Hollywood studio back lots in a calm and deliberative manner. Affleck has a good sense of pacing, mixing humorous elements with the almost overwhelming drama. Details about the characters' lives and relationships create empathy for their peril.

Affleck deserves kudos not only for accurately depicting the late 1970s-early 1980s, right down to men's huge designer eyewear, cashmere sweaters and mustaches, but the mood of the era, the beginning of the The War on Terror.

Affleck, in full beard, longish hair and too-small sport-coat, is thoughtful, forceful and solid. He rarely cracks a smile.

Look for a director Oscar nomination for Affleck.

The screenplay by Chris Terrio ("Heights") is based on "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue American from Tehran," a Wired magazine 2007 article by Joshua Bearman following 1997 declassification of the mission by President Bill Clinton.

Television news footage depicting Tehran street protests, and newscasts by Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel, whose "Nightline" became a go-to news source and popular show during the hostage crisis, are judiciously inserted into fictional recreations. Political fallout on the Jimmy Carter-Ronald Reagan presidential race is back-grounded.

Scenes between John Goodman and Alan Arkin, playing a movie make-up artist and movie producer, respectively, are hilarious. Look for supporting actor Oscar nominations.

Alexandre Desplat's score heightens the pulse-pounding tension.

"Argo" is a film within a film: a metaphor for the state of geopolitics.

"Argo," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for language and some violent images; Genre: Drama, Thriller; Run Time: 2 hrs.; Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Stay for the beginning of the end credits for photos of actual persons juxtaposed with the actors portraying them in "Argo."

Box Office, Oct. 17: "Paranormal Activity 4" scared up $30.2 million to open at No. 1; with "Argo" holding at No. 2, $16.6 million, $43.1 million, two weeks;

3. "Hotel Transylvania," $13.5 million, $119 million, four weeks; 4. "Taken 2," $13.4 million, $105.9 million, three weeks; 5. "Alex Cross," $11.7 million, opening; 6. "Sinister," $9 million, $31.9 million, two weeks; 7. "Here Comes the Boom," $8.5 million, $23.2 million, two weeks; 8. "Pitch Perfect," $7 million, $45.7 million, four weeks; 9. "Frankenweenie," $4.4 million, $28.3 million, three weeks; 10. "Looper," $4.2 million, $57.8 million, four weeks;

Unreel, Oct. 26:

"Cloud Atlas," R: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving and Jim Broadbent star in the science fiction drama from co-writers-directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis that travels through time and events.

"Chasing Mavericks" PG: Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson co-direct the sports drama starring Gerard Butler, Elisabeth Shue, Jonny Weston and Abigail Spencer about California surfers tackling one of the biggest waves on earth.

"Silent Hill: Revelation 3D," R: Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, Carrie-Anne Moss and Malcolm McDowell star in the horror film about an alternate reality.

"Fun Size," No MPAA rating at deadline: Halloween plans go haywire in the comedy starring Victoria Justice, Johnny Knoxville, Ana Gasteyer and Chelsea Handler.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline.com, and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Lehigh Valley Community Public Radio WDIY 88.1 FM, wdiy.org. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@ tnonline.com and on Facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes