Ben Affleck has turned to the director's chair over the last six years. His first two movies were crime thrillers, 2007's Gone Baby Gone and 2010's The Town, and both showed a knack for really solid filmmaking, both of which I liked a lot. For Affleck's third film though, he had a little change of pace with 2012's Argo.
In November 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is stormed by angry Iranians upset that a deposed Shah is being sheltered by the U.S. In the chaos of the embassy takeover, six Americans escape and manage to make it to the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) undetected. Some 70 hostages have been taken though, and a long waiting game follows. Over 70 days later, the U.S. government and the C.I.A. are still trying to figure out what to do when C.I.A. agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a plan. Posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi film (a Star Wars rip-off), Mendez intends to get into Iran and get the six out safely. The plan is ridiculously dangerous, and the potential for failure is high. Time is running out though, and it's the best plan available.
I've always been a fan of Affleck as an actor going back to his first few roles in movies like Good Will Hunting and Armageddon. As much as I like him as an actor, I'm starting to think I like him more from behind the camera. Maybe it's being around the movie business as much as he has, but he seems to have a knack for this camera. The reviews were uniformly positive here, and the IMDB rating is at a very high 8.4 as I write this review. Is it an all-time classic that the rating suggests? No, but it's very well done and well-executed. It's refreshing to see a story that focuses on just that; the story. While it's rated 'R,' it can mostly be attributed to the language. Little in the way of violence, sex and explosions, everything is streamlined for the story. Nothing wasted here.
This is based on the real life events that took place between 1979 and 1981 with some 80 hostages under Iranian control. Affleck has said in interviews that some liberties were taken with the story, but that's the point. It is based on a true story. He never said it is a true story. What appeals to me about Affleck's work is why I like his acting. It's understated when it is at its best. Argo feels like a throwback to the great crime/political thrillers of the 1970s (interesting because it takes place after those movies were made, but you get the idea). It is not flashy or anything freakishly new. What is it? Lots of good actors, a dramatic, incredibly intense story, and tension that is so well-handled it gets to the point it was uncomfortable by the end. Groundbreaking? Nope, but there's something to be said for a no-frills thriller that knows what it is trying to accomplish.
Like in The Town, Affleck stars in his own flick, but like his story, it isn't a flashy part. His Tony Mendez is an exfiltration specialist, an expert in getting people out of places, who concocts a hair-brained scheme to get these 6 Americans out of harm's way. Tony is quiet and a thinker, but he's always working on something. Give him a mission, and he's not going to stop to accomplish his objectives. A solid leading part for Mr. Affleck. Joining him in two scene-stealing parts are John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Goodman plays a respected Hollywood makeup man while Arkin is a director a little past his prime, both men signing on to help Affleck's Tony create a fake film that will convince Iranian officials and armed forces his backstory is legit. Both parts fade into the background once Tony heads out on his mission, but the scenes among Affleck, Goodman and Arkin are gems. I loved all three performances. Also look for always reliable Bryan Cranston as Tony's CIA supervisor, Kyle Chandler as the White House Chief of Staff, Titus Welliver as a State Department official and plenty of familiar faces popping up in quick one and two scene appearances.
I liked the movie throughout as the story develops. We're given background, see the fake movie -- dubbed 'Argo' -- come together, and then Tony's mission. The actual mission getting the six Americans out of a bloody, chaotic and paranoid Tehran is by far the best thing going for Affleck's movie. Tension doesn't begin to describe these scenes as Tony's "film crew" tries to get through airport security. The six Americans include Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe. Farshad Farahat does an incredible job with as a checkpoint guard investigating the backstory. The ending is Affleck showing his ability. He doesn't blare music at you or demand you feel a certain way as a viewer. He presents the action, lets it develop and allows the actors to do their thing. Another winner. Looking forward to see what's next for Affleck, as an actor or director.
Argo (2012): ***/****