Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Argo ★★★★

Proof That Ben Affleck Has Become A Great Filmmaker

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

I have to admit that I was one of the many Americans who doubted Ben Affleck's talents as a director. Having appeared in dozens of terrible movies and not bringing anything to some of the roles offered to him, I swore off all things Affleck related. That all changed when Affleck himself stated that he would only appear in films he felt his newborn daughter would be proud of, a promise that came to fruition in 2006 with his role in Hollywoodland. Since that time his career has shifted drastically, to the point that he's now directed three films, each one better than the last, all of them worthy of praise. The third of these films is Argo, a major achievement for Affleck as a filmmaker and one of the most thrilling films of the year.

Argo is the true story of C.I.A. agent Tony Mendez's (Affleck) rescue of six United States diplomats in Tehran during the Iran Hostage Crisis; a story that, up until President Clinton declassified it, was unknown to everyone. It's also a story that lends itself well to film, as the cover Mendez used to get these six people out was that each of them were part of the production crew for a fake science fiction film called Argo, thus allowing them to escape the country without question. There are some obvious deviations from the original story for cinematic purposes, particularly when Affleck adds layers of suspense to the film's third act, but it all works well and serves the heroic nature of Mendez's rescue.

What Affleck manages to accomplish skillfully is a tone throughout the film that is both dramatic and comical. Most of the drama unfolds from the true events of the story, which Affleck handles nicely, and the comedy comes out of everything related to the fake movie Mendez uses as a cover. Most of those scenes occur early in the film while Mendez is in Los Angeles. There, he meets up with John Chambers (John Goodman, a genuine delight in this film), a Hollywood makeup artist who has worked with the C.I.A. before and has the necessary connections to pull off the charade. One of those connections is Lester Siegel (a brilliant Alan Arkin, delivering the film's most quoted line), a producer who provides the needed media attention to sell the idea that Argo really is being made. Goodman and Arkin are so perfect in their roles that if there were a spinoff of just these two characters about the ins and outs of their lives in Hollywood, I wouldn't be opposed to it. They serve the story well and provide hilarious commentary on what it means to be "someone" in Los Angeles, which I'm sure every producer in America will appreciate.

The rest of the cast is a who's who of television: "Hey that's Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad!"; "Oh my, it's Kyle Chandler from Friday Night Lights!"; "Better watch out, that guy is The Man in Black from Lost, Titus Welliver!"; "Whoa! Sydney Bristow's dad, Victor Garber is here?"; "They even have Željko Ivanek, who has been a bad guy in virtually every TV show I've ever seen!" The funniest bit of casting, however, goes to Richard Kind playing a bitter writer that faces off with Arkin for the rights to his script, giving us a true portrait of writers everywhere in America.

At times, the casting is a little bit distracting, but not so much that it hinders anything that's great about Argo. In fact, the only true detriment as far as casting is concerned is Mr. Affleck himself, who is so deadpan throughout the film that you have to wonder if he's really trying. I get that he's trying to be an emotionless C.I.A. agent who is estranged from his wife and son, but I don't think that Affleck has the necessary acting skills to make us feel sorry for him. It has been suggested that George Clooney, a producer on the film, would have made a better Mendez, and I agree. There's no humanity to Affleck's portrayal and you need a little of that to be invested in his story.

Despite the weaknesses of Affleck the actor, Affleck the director shines. This is a film worthy of all its praise because of Affleck's ability to tell a story in an entertaining, swiftly paced manner. He somehow manages to make everyone who watches it wonder if the six diplomats will make it out even though we already know the true story. It takes a very good director to pull that off, and happily Affleck is reinventing himself as one of Hollywood's top directors of entertaining thrillers. For those still skeptical about seeing anything Affleck is involved in, Argo gives you many reasons to be excited for what he does next.

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