Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
Gone Baby Gone is a film that introduced me to Casey Affleck as he was just on the cusp of having a brilliant break out year in film. It is a shame that he has not continued the momentum he worked up in 2007 with great performances in The Assassination of Jesse James and Gone Baby Gone; he has only done two films since then. But his brother, Ben, who happened to make his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, which was equally brilliant as his brother’s performance, has gone on to direct two more great films, including this one, Argo, which won great praise from the crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival. As we near the fall, and ultimately awards season, in a year that has been somewhat underwhelming in term of producing cream of the crop films, Argo just might be that first really serious Best Picture contender.
Based on a true story, Argo follows along the storyline of 6 American citizens in Tehran, Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in the late 70s, early 80s. For those too young to remember, or perhaps who weren’t even born yet in my case, the film succinctly summarizes the political climate surrounding the crisis to give context to this remarkable story. The short of it is 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days at the American Embassy in Iran. Argo, however, is about the 6 Americans who escaped the embassy and were hidden by the Canadian ambassador and his wife. Enter Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) of the CIA and a whole host of others (portrayed by an all-star cast including Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Bryan Cranston) to coax up a plot just wild enough to work to get those 6 Americans out of the country and to safety during a tumultuous time in Iran.
Ask me five years ago about Good Will Hunting, a film I love by the way, and I would have said that the script, which won an Oscar for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, was probably mostly written by Damon, and the cheesy funny lines were probably Affleck’s contributions. Ask me know, and I think I might switch that hypothesis. Affleck clearly has a knack for formulating a film with great pace, great intensity and great characters. Argo is all of the above, and otherwise somewhat hard to describe. Every now and again I run into a film that is just hard to articulate just why I love it so. The technical aspects of the film are all good, but I don’t think any one element stick out as being overly brilliant. The entire cast is great, but again, not one that stands out. I have always viewed Ben the actor as being serviceable and in the lead role here he does nothing to disturb the film, and he doesn’t really need to reach any further above that anyway.
I can only chalk something like this up to a great screenplay spectacular execution by the director and the entire crew. As an ensemble cast, the film is beautifully acted. Everybody seems to be in the right place at the right time saying the right thing and in the right way with the right camera angle. It is a perfect film, but not in such a way that it jumps off the screen and demands to be called a masterpiece. I have often ran into this sort of thing when watching Alfred Hitchcock films. Not to compare Affleck to Hitchcock, which is exactly what I am doing though, but if Affleck keeps this up he is headed for an astounding career as a director. He is already three for three in my book and each of his films has featured the common thread of being well delivered suspenseful thrillers, just of a slightly different blend then Hitchcock.
Does my nationality play part of my reaction to the film? It shouldn’t, and I don’t think it does, but I would be remorse if I didn’t also admit that being an American definitely doesn’t hurt. But at the same time, everybody roots for the innocent to survive. From start to finish the film is tense and edge of your seat fun. It never lets up, but not in an action movie kind of way. No, this film is built on uncertainty, even if you are certain of the eventual outcome. That is hard to do folks. The Town, while a very good film, was a step down for Affleck from the amazing Gone Baby Gone. With Argo, he has taken a huge step back up and I already can’t wait for his next film.
***1/2 – Great