Ben Affleck’s third effort as a director is a superbly crafted nail-biting thriller that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.
The action begins in 1979 Tehran, when the U.S. embassy was overrun by a furious mob, hammering its doors, smashing its windows, taking hostages and demanding the American government to return the deposed shah to Iran. But six managed to escape and hid inside the home of the Canadian ambassador (played by Victor Garber). This is a beautiful introduction, cleverly written and shot because it simply doesn’t take any side. It only shows a metaphorical representation about the insecurity of the US government back then, and in a way, today. The opening sequences proved Affleck to be a master director. The tension is created since the very first moment; the dramatic effect is emphasized by blending archival footage with film footage resulting in a crazy but wonderfully thrilling scenes and beautifully textured images.
Back to the story, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) was assigned to get them out of Iran. His plan was to fly to Iran as a Film producer, and convince the Iranians that the 6 escapees are actually a Canadian film crew looking for exotic locations to film their next sci-fi movie: Argo. Two persons backed him up: a special effect guru (John Goodman) and an aging producer superbly played by Alan Arkin who, with his hilarious and witty dialogue, stole every scene he was in. Their role was to convince the world that Argo is a film in the making and is about to shoot.
Driven by a solid script, the story remains believable to a certain way. The ‘based on true events’ line that usually pops up before the movie starts does not necessarily guarantee this, but the script narrowed the un-necessary complications -that usually exist in this kind of political thrillers- to the least, making the pace logical and thought provoking. There’s no useless lines here, every word served a purpose and allowed the story to progress. What was really original about it is the unexpected humor. There is enough humor here to call the movie a comedy, and enough drama to call it a drama and enough tension to call it a thriller. This is an example of what a balanced screenplay can offer. Not a single joke felt forced here, not a single suspense moment felt cheap, and the drama was totally human and was uplifted by the natural performances by the cast, although none of them is a super star, this is a brilliant ensemble that deserves the highest praise and they proved that you don’t really need A list stars to make a successful movie. You just need the right people, and they were the right people. Except maybe one of them. Ben Affleck.
Ben Affleck was really good as Tony Mendez. But if we want to talk about his talents in general, Affleck was magnificent behind the camera. He is a serious director. He took a serious story and treated it with an utter craftsmanship and created a movie that is above all an entertaining one. This was the best time I had at the theatre this year. But Affleck was never convincing as an actor, his performance was extremely ‘limited’, he was faithful to his character but as a ‘leading’ role, he wasn’t dominating the screen like the supporting cast.
I have one more thing to criticize about Argo. (Spoilers). The final scene. I won’t go into details, but the final scene did give me this sudden feeling, that this whole gripping experience was about this need for protection, (Spoilers), represented by Mendez returning to his wife, and her feeling this security that was missing. The scene felt forced and the situation was needlessly dramatic. I personally didn’t like it. But with all the good things ‘Argo’ offers, you’ll never complain about it.
‘Argo’ is a first rate thriller, it takes us inside a country that is, for the most of us, as mysterious as anything else. But this country created a dazzling set piece and a wonderful rendering. We all know that the film may and did exaggerate certain incidents and it certainly invented some suspenseful moments, but with the solid material and the historical accuracies (although there are some inaccuracies but that doesn’t matter) it never crosses into implausible territory. This is Affleck’s best work so far, this is the work of a master director. I can’t wait for Affleck’s next movie.
Ps: watch the credits as well.