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John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Ben Affleck stars in and directs the critically acclaimed "Argo."
A tense, clandestine and quirky chapter in recent history is turned into an engrossing fact-based thriller in "Argo" (Warner Bros.).

Though serious themes and a surfeit of swearing make this drama suitable only for adults, mature viewers will find their fortitude in the face of exploding F-bombs rewarded by a positive treatment of marriage and a brief but telling salute to faith-based values.

Set against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81, "Argo" tells the story of CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). Tasked by his boss Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) with rescuing the handful of U.S. embassy employees who managed to escape capture when that facility was overrun by armed militants, Mendez hatches a seemingly far-fetched scheme: He'll smuggle them out of Tehran -- where they've been hiding in the Canadian embassy -- disguised as a Canadian film crew touring the Middle East to scout locations.

To make this outlandish cover convincing, Mendez enlists the help of veteran Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman). Hurriedly, the trio works together to drum up publicity for the imaginary film project that gives this movie its title. The real script they're using is a characteristic Tinseltown artifact of the era: a second-rate rip-off of "Star Wars."

Affleck, who also directed, masterfully alternates between life-or-death drama and high-stakes humor. Though both aspects of the story too frequently give rise to coarse dialogue, the canny patriotism and emotional impact of the picture -- as scripted by Chris Terrio -- make for a rousing experience.

Even as he dedicatedly pursues his dangerous mission into hostile territory, Mendez is preoccupied by family problems. He and his wife have separated, and she's taken his young son away to live with her. Mendez maintains as much contact with both of them as he can, holding on to the distant prospect of a happy outcome.

As the fugitives he's been sent to help prepare to cooperate with Mendez' desperate plan, one of them quietly studies a prayer card with an image of the Infant of Prague on it. He then slips the card into the copy of the "Argo" screenplay he'll carry with him throughout the coming ordeal.

The implicit contrast between the innocence and gentleness conjured up by that widely beloved icon and the screaming hordes of religiously inflamed zealots who abuse their prisoners inside the violated embassy is a striking one. But the fundamental difference being highlighted may have more to do with the nature of civilized life itself than with the varieties of belief.

Either way, audiences will note who prevails.

The film contains potentially disturbing scenes and images, an abortion reference, a half-dozen uses of profanity as well as many rough and crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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