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The best of both Ben Affleck worlds: Well-paced Argo deserves an Oscar nod

The best of both Ben Affleck worlds: Well-paced Argo deserves an Oscar nod

It’s an old Hollywood truism that all actors want to be directors. Plenty of them have given it a shot, but relatively few have had what it takes to produce truly memorable films.

You wouldn’t think the guy responsible for the one-two gut punch of Daredevil and Gigli would be the exception to that rule. But Ben Affleck has proved the skeptics wrong.

Affleck’s first two directing forays, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, both earned Oscar nominations for supporting actors. His latest, Argo, which opens in theaters October 12, is poised to make the biggest awards-season splash yet.

​It’s a testament both to the inherent quality of the story and Affleck’s directing that Argo maintains a strong undercurrent of tension throughout.

Based on a true story, Argo follows CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Affleck), an exfiltration expert, as he attempts to extract six American government employees from Iran during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979-80. His big idea involves convincing the Iranians that a Canadian film group is scouting for locations in Tehran and that the employees are actually part of that group.

Affleck the director takes us behind the scenes in three key areas: Iran, where the six Americans have taken refuge at the Canadian ambassador’s house; Washington, D.C., where Mendez must convince his co-workers and other agencies that his idea for exfiltration is worth exploring; and Los Angeles, where Mendez works with a couple of Hollywood insiders to find just the right movie to make the plan feasible.

It’s a testament both to the inherent quality of the story and Affleck’s directing that Argo maintains a strong undercurrent of tension throughout. Affleck keeps things moving at a brisk pace, never dwelling on any one aspect too long. That’s especially helpful because the ending of the film — even for those who didn’t live through that time — is a foregone conclusion. Keeping the audience engaged in each scene, rather than letting their thoughts stray, is key to the film’s success.

Also important is the attention to detail. The ’70s are brought back to life in all their hairy, gaudy glory. Magnificent moustaches and beards abound, hairstyles seem ripped right from Charlie’s Angels and the clothes — let’s just say that polyester plays a big role. But it’s not just the fashion; the filmmakers also do a great job of conveying the feel of what it was like to live during those times.

​Affleck may have made some poor decisions in his acting career, but he proves here that he remains a formidable actor when presented with the right role.

The only misstep is giving a story that already has its fair share of drama an unnecessary, extra dramatic push. As the film nears its conclusion, Affleck and company ask the audience to believe that events in three separate locations around the world, all of which might jeopardize the success of the mission, happen nearly simultaneously, which just stretches the imagination a bit too far. 

Poetic license is one thing, but the audience deserves a bit more credit than to be served up cheap tricks like that.

The acting, however, makes up for any faults. Affleck may have made some poor decisions in his acting career, but he proves here that he remains a formidable actor when presented with the right role.

The supporting cast is a mix of big names (Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin) and recognizable faces (Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane, Chris Messina), all of whom sell their roles so well that their previous fame never overshadows the parts they’re playing here.

Argo is a film that feels both current and retro — in all the best ways. Ben Affleck has solidified his position as a must-see director and laid down one of the first true salvos in the Best Picture race for the upcoming Oscars.

Argo
In Argo, Ben Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Argo
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Argo
Argo
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