Ben Affleck has gotten a lot of hate; mostly, throughout the beginning of his career. Some people thought he was undeserving of that screenplay Oscar he shared with Matt Damon. While not all the hate was justified, a great deal was. Everything changed for good, though, back in 2007. Affleck’s directional debut – Gone Baby Gone – was simply outstanding (it’s in my top fifty). Then he comes out in the Company Men and State of Play. He was picking his roles better and actually delivering solid acting. The Town was his second movie as a director. While it didn’t measure up to his previous one, it was still a fine structured engaging crime thriller. Still, people could say he only directs well when the movie takes place in Boston. Affleck changes even that now, with Argo. It’s safe to say his career has revised, and with such powerful force. He’s three for three, and someone to keep an eye on when you hear his name is attacked to anything. Argo is a sure-fire Oscar contender; what makes this different from others is that everyone can like this.
In Tehran, 1979, Iranian militants overran the U.S. embassy taking fifty-two Americans hostage. Six managed to escape, however, taking refuge in the house of a Canadian ambassador. They stay there, safe, at least, for the time being. Eventually, their identities will be discovered, and unthinkable things will happen to each of them. CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with an interesting and highly ambitions plan – it was the best bad idea anyone could come up with. His plan is to construct a fake film called Argo. Mendez sets out to Hollywood and recruits two movie-industry veterans – John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) – to make this venture believable. Mendez then flies to Iran with the hope to fly the group back on a commercial flight, tricking the Iranians that they’re all part of a film crew.
The direction is flawless. Affleck knows how to structure a movie, or in this case also a movie within a movie – I loved how that aspect was handled. The political parts of the story were filmed well too. Another thing to bring up is how close the movie plays to reality. A good deal is factual, but of course, some things were tweaked. Instead of coming off as pointless, the changes were utilized to great effect. This isn’t a flaw I’m about to mention, just so you know. The sole thing lacking in Affleck’s direction is a certain style. There are no signature things where you know beyond a doubt that you’re watching a Ben Affleck movie; some of the best directors have this in common. I would refer to his direction as flawlessly fundamental. All the right buttons are pushed in a great way. Pushing this small problem or observation away, I’m eagerly awaited when he announces another future project.
Chris Terri is an inexperienced screenwriter; his previous and only movie was back in 2004, Heights. Terri co-wrote the script and directed. I’ve never heard of it nor seen it. However, after seeing Argo, some serious talent was just unveiled. Let me start with the comedic aspect. All the humor comes mostly from the beginning; it has to deal with the fake movie. Superbly written dialog that could have sounded corny, just hit’s it out of the park. When it comes to drama; it’s on that kind of level as well. It’s hard to pick out a best thing done in the screenplay, but those characters could merit that. None of the characters are necessarily fleshed out. The main character is given the cliched family problems – it works to a point. Great writing is the only way for you to care about characters that you know little about. Argo has masterful writing. I’m always on the lookout for a great screenwriter. I hope he can produce a script like this in the future.
Building tension without action scenes is always a difficult task. Recent movies to do this have been The Ghost Writer and The Ides of March – both best of the year quality as well I might add. Many scenes have you on the edge of your seat just dying with anticipation. I wasn’t familiar with the story, but even I could predict how everything was going to end. But, a scene would come along and completely erase this thought from my mind. When any action is present it just adds more tension. Many movies try to accomplish this elusive goal; most don’t succeed. It all depends on how you construct your story. Little details are placed in for this to work. I issue a fair warning, if you’re a nail-biter, you might not have any nails when you’re done watching.
You won’t find one bad performance here. Ben Affleck has the lead role, but he’s surrounded by countless other characters. It would have been easy for him to just fade into the background. The role isn’t very loud; that doesn’t stop Affleck from giving a great performance. He is extremely subtle and gives off under layering depths to his character. Bryan Cranston – who seems to be appearing in everything lately – is excellent. I don’t know what it is, but he’s just never bad in anything. Granted, you can say Cranston is the same in every movie; in this case, that statement is a compliment. He goes good with any role. Alan Arkin and John Goodman are hilarious. They would both crack me up time and time again. Aside from being funny, all-around performances are given. I won’t go into the many supporting cast members in detail. I will though, list their names. Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, Taylor Schilling, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Kerry Bishe, Richard Kind, Chris Messina and Christopher Denham. All deserve recognition.
Like I mentioned earlier, not just critics will like this Oscar contender. Everyone I’ve talked to have loved this; it’s hard to imagine anyone hating it. If I had to think of a complaint, it would be that a piece seems to be missing giving it a push over the edge. I couldn’t tell you what it was if I tried. Still, nothing can be deemed a fault. This not only manages to be a great smart movie, but also extremely entertaining. A train wreck could have taken place in the hands of other people. So many elements were easy to mess up. One final thing to mention is the production design; the era is captured magnificently. Not once did it seem I was in a different time than the movie was. An ample of thrillers just go through the motions and are uninteresting; this was a breath of fresh air. Argo is truly one of the best films of the year.