Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort “Argo” is his best. It makes me wonder why he followed this with playing Batman, a done to death cinematic character.
“Argo” showed promise of another great actor/director in the same vein as Orson Wells, Woody Allen, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood. I’m sure Affleck will direct again but a Batman commitment certainly sidelines you. I hope he’ll direct again. I’m a big fan of his previous films, “The Town” and “Gone Baby Gone.”
The story tells of one aspect of the Iranian hostage crisis that spanned the end of 1979 through 1980. Six employees of the riot stormed American embassy in Iran manage to escape and hide in the Canadian ambassador’s home. Slowly but surely their hideaway will be revealed and they will inevitably be taken prisoner. Affleck plays CIA operative Tony Mendez who is tasked with getting them out. His plan, with assistance from John Goodman as legendary Hollywood makeup artist, John Chambers, and Alan Arkin as producer Lester Siegel, will make up a cockamamie story about producing a fake science fiction “Star Wars” rip off film called, you guessed it, “Argo.” They will do marketing write ups, poster advertising, and even a costumed table read at the Beverly Hills Hotel, all with the intent to just appear authentic as a film studio seeking out production locales in exotic Iran. The six hostages naturally are the film’s crew.
Affleck directs two acts here with two different narratives using both masks of theatre. Namely comedy and tragedy. The pleasure comes in watching Arkin and Goodman pair up to bring the Hollywood flavor that’s necessary. It’s great fun, especially when watching Arkin (in an Oscar nominated role) shyster his way with character actor Richard Kind to buy the Hollywood script-these two guys are like Oscar and Felix. Goodman is great as the been there done that Hollywood insider. He says “You can teach a Rhesus monkey to be a director.”
The drama comes with Affleck’s talent for delivering taut tension from his directing especially but also from his own performance as well as his cast of six hostages consisting of Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe. Bryan Cranston is also good as Mendez’ comunica from home. Cranston is just good in anything.
The tension builds with intimidating locals screaming of their loyalty to the Ayatollah as well as the eventual airport security. It’s all very nerve racking.
The critique for the the film lies in its own admission of historical inaccuracies. The escape was not as tense as the film suggests. More importantly, the caper was really primarily pulled off by the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor (great actor Victor Garber). No. Canada is not given enough credit in the film. Still, here is a rare exception where I don’t mind. I guess because the suspense Affleck offers up is at its peak. You really shake your head at it all.
Forgive the cliche but “Argo” is a nail biting, edge of your seat thriller. At best, I can be grateful for learning about the true story following seeing the film. It’s a story that was kept hidden for 17 years. In these times of hardship and turmoil in America, it’s fortunate that a success can finally be celebrated.
“Argo” was undoubtedly worthy of its Best Picture Oscar win, and Ben Affleck should have at least been nominated for Best Director.
Fun Fact: “Argo” is produced by two former Batmans: George Clooney and Ben Affleck.