There was a time when Ben Affleck was the biggest schmuck on Earth. Terminally engaged to J-Lo, overshadowed by Matt Damon, it was like the poor guy couldn’t get a break. Then, one day, he went behind the camera…and discovered that he can work there as well, if not do better.
Since his debut Gone Baby Gone in 2007, Affleck has won rave reviews for his directorial work and with this latest feature, it looks he has found his calling.
Argo is an adaptation loosely based on the book by former CIA agent Antonio Mendez (‘The Master of Disguise‘) and an 2007 Wired.co.uk article by Joshuah Bearman, which recalls the Canadian Caper, where six U.S. diplomats were rescued by the CIA during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Affleck portrays CIA specialist Mendez, who comes with the idea that the diplomats make up the Canadian crew of a fake science-fiction film with the intention of flying out of Iran together.
Capturing the viewer’s attention from the wonderful storyboard opening sequence, which is interlaced with historical footage, the seeds for a satirical but gripping thriller are planted.
Affleck perfectly paces the film with Chris Terrio’s script, whether it is fast-paced and tense in Iran to pretentious and just plain weird in Hollywood. As uneven as the pace can be at times, it is easy to enjoy the jokes and revel in the suspense when the scene commands it. The authenticity of the film is also brilliant – like Gus Van Sant’s Academy Award-winning Milk, there is a lot of attention to detail, ranging from the costumes and set pieces to what the general concept of popular science-fiction was at that time. In amidst the occasional historical inaccuracy, the little details build the film’s credibility, especially when detailing a sensitive time in history.
As Affleck plays it straight in the compromised agent, the supporting cast tick all the right boxes. John Goodman and Alan Arkin (as Hollywood make-up effects specialist John Chambers and Hollywood producer Lester Siegel respectively) poke fun at the Hollywood system, revelling on the joy of being distantly involved in a top-secret rescue mission, and Bryan Cranston has an authoritative presence that doesn’t overshadow his fellow cast members.
Other cast members, namely those who portray the US diplomats (these include Clea DuVall, Monsters’ Scoot McNairy and Tate Donovan), appear short and sweet but they truly shine during the last third of the film where the emotions run through – making the viewer taste the tension.
You cannot call it a comedy, you cannot even call it a straight book-to-film adaptation – but you can call Argo so many other things: a satirical political thriller, gripping, tense…and fantastic.