Film as craft is seemingly rare, and is somewhat fueled by the audience’s expectation for bigger, bolder digital effects, unthinkable plot lines, and shallow characters. In the case of actor/director Ben Affleck, the craft is not all forgotten amid these expectations, something that has propelled him to his third directorial feature, Argo.
While filled with stunning visuals, a well-told story, and well-crafted character lines, Argo lacks an ability to surpass the scope of the story and push past the frame of the immediate happenings onscreen. Argo’s focus is limited to the Middle Eastern conflict that erupted in 1979, that soon led to an international crisis, and involved the collaboration of multiple governments in attempt to rescue six escaped American refugees.
C.I.A agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) has a proven track record for getting people out of sticky situations, and for the Americans who escaped captivity from the furious Iranian rebels, such will prove to be the most difficult mission Mendez has yet to execute. The six Americans found refuge in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), but severe rebel pressure threatened their safety, as well as the safety of those harboring them.
The C.I.A.’s involvement was sketchy at first, as their ideas for retrieval were all incredibly lacking in substantiality. What Mendez brings to the table is no less insane, but has the highest probability for successful completion. After watching a bit of Planet of the Apes, Tony proposes a plan for retrieval that requires a bit of Hollywood magic – create an imaginary sci-fi film, for which he and the six American are a Canadian film crew who are location scouting in Iran.
The realization that this plan may be more difficult to carry out than he initially thought comes when he seeks the involvement of Hollywood veteran Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and esteemed makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman). The plan becomes bigger and bolder, but hopefully more credible in the eyes of the Iranians. Several hiccups come along the way, all attempting to thwart the mission’s success – including the wariness of the six Americans, whose valid concerns threaten Tony’s escape plan.
Argo’s success lies mainly in the rather unfamiliar storyline, film technique, and most profoundly, Ben Affleck’s involvement in the project. For myself and many millennials, this was the first time this story was really ever told – at least to my recollection. My unfamiliarity with the story only made the tension in the plot more oppressive, and had my heart beating and palms sweaty, anxious to see what happened to Mendez and the six Americans.
Speaking of the six Americans, I think it’s important that their story is not forgotten. In my opinion, their wherewithal, as well as that of the Canadian ambassador, was a bit downplayed. Were it not for their quick thinking in the American embassy, things may have played out much differently. Though their screen time was more limited, the actors (Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, and Kerry Bishe) did a stellar job displaying the complex variety of emotions that these men and women certainly experienced.
In addition to these fine actors, other talent present in the film included Kyle Chandler as President Carter’s Chief of Staff, and Bryan Cranston as Mendez’s fellow C.I.A. comrade. Cranston, in addition to Goodman and Arkin, truly brought out some of the key performances throughout the film.
Though not my favorite project of his, Ben Affleck certainly reaffirms his standing in the directorial role, and reminds us that even though he may have faltered along the way (think Gigli), his acting is also exceeding our expectations. What made this film different from his previous successes, such as Gone Baby Gone and his sophomore project The Town (one of my personal all-time favorites), was the severe lack of character depth and emotional connection with the main protagonist. While much of this may be due to the writing, the director shapes those connections that the audience makes with the characters, and I just didn’t get any sort of bond with either Mendez or any other character. That being said, I know this won’t be the last we see of Affleck, and I truly hope he can bring back some of the previous depth that was present in his earlier projects.
I think this film is a great production, and gives someone such as myself a glimpse inside a moment of our country’s history. And, while I didn’t find it to be the most top-notch of films this year, I am certain that come award time, it will be a big contender in several categories.
Argo – 8/10