After the pairing of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, young Hollywood power player Ben Affleck brings out yet another impressive and stylish piece of cinema in Argo. The story follows the rescue of six American embassy workers trapped in Iran after a violent overthrow. The brilliant mission, conceived by an ingenious CIA agent who specialized in these types of extraditions, was to fake an entire Hollywood movie and pull the hostages out in broad daylight posing as a Canadian film crew. For years afterwards the real details of this were hidden away under the ominous term “classified”, but after years upon years had passed, the story came out. What could be better source material for a modern day film? It’s a movie about a fake movie.
Where Affleck succeeds as director in Argo is taking his time to create a realistic world and time period. Everything felt vintage, even down to the opening logo at the beginning of the film. He wanted you not only to think the movie was set in the 1970s, but that you were watching live footage from inside a theater in the 1970s. A subtle move, but certainly effective.
He also plays the lead role of Tony Mendez, the CIA operative behind the mission. Once again, Affleck showcases a level of empathy and emotion that many people thought wasn’t possible from him, after a string of terrible performances in flops like Gigli and Daredevil. What we’ve witnessed with him since his move behind the camera is the growth of a talent I believe will be a major force in Hollywood for years to come.
The pacing of the film is another area where everything feels incredibly well thought out. Nothing feels forced or arbitrary (except for one small moment towards the end dealing with Alan Arkin and John Goodman, but we’ll forgive that). Keeping that level of tension and intensity throughout a movie without exhausting the audience is a very tricky thing, yet Affleck and his team pull it off surprisingly well.
Some of that ability to keep the movie moving was the decision not to tell the entire life story and background of each hostage. In essence, only one of the hostages actually gets to give real background into who he is and what his motivations are, which of course plays itself out much later in the film, once again proving the choice was necessary. It’s economic storytelling in virtually every way, something that is lost among much of the scripts that make it to the screen today.
People who follow Hollywood and movies as a whole love to joke about a playful competition between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon ever since their dual win for writing the film, Good Will Hunting. Damon certainly stepped forward first in terms of acting roles and plotting a stellar path in his future roles, but Affleck has made a mark behind the camera no one can deny and I feel both now represent the current and future generation of where movies are headed. That is a good thing for us as the audience.