Welcome to the elite director club, Mr. Affleck.
“Argo” is Ben Affleck’s latest film as a director, and apparently the third time’s the charm as this one is as good, if not better, than his previous two projects. The film takes place during 1979, when six Americans escaped the U.S. embassy in Iran and went into hiding with the Canadian ambassador. Affleck plays the role of Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who specializes in extracting hostages. Mendez is tasked with coming up with a plan to help the six diplomatic personnel escape from the revolution-torn country.
Mendez eventually comes up with a dangerous but workable plan that involves creating fake identities for himself and the six people that are in Iran. Fake identities would label that the seven are a film crew scouting areas for a sci-fi movie. The plan is selected and Mendez gets the help of Hollywood producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, and make-up specialist John Chambers, played by John Goodman. Together they set a plan in motion to create publicity for a fake film called “Argo,” so that Mendez has a plausible story for being in Iran and getting the six out.
The film has a plot that is very well paced. The first half introduces the protagonists well and also sets up an engaging story. The great set up of the first half is followed by a thrilling second half that is suspenseful and will have audiences on the edge of their seats. The story of the mission and how they are going to pull it off is interesting, unpredictable and makes you want to know what is going to happen next. It all leads to an intense and rewarding climax.
Playing the lead character, Affleck is great. He plays the role well, offering a strong performance. He is a character an audience can root for and understand the pressure that he is under. For the most part he does play the part more reserved, however this does not lessen the emotional connection with his character. Co-starring with Affleck was John Goodman and Alan Arkin, who both really shine here. Both play the roles of rather cynical men but at the same time know the industry like the back of their hand and want to do whatever it takes to extract the diplomats. These two are so good in the film and are very easy to get emotionally attached to.
This actually leads to a bit of a problem, however, when looking at the six diplomats that the mission is revolving around. The diplomatic characters are played well by their respective actors and actresses. The performances were never the problem. What hurt their characters was a lack of development around them, making for a lack of investment. The audience can understand the plight of the six characters, however they are not as engaging as the others in the film. This is a smaller flaw though, as the acting was still well done here.
Technically, the movie is sound. Affleck creates an atmosphere of absolute chaos in many of the scenes that show just how dangerous the mission is and escalates the level of tension for the climax. He also places great recordings of news stories and footage from the actual event as well. The opening scene of the film that gives background information was also creative and worked well as it ties into what happens later in the film. Also worth mentioning is the set and costume designs, which are done right to match the time period.
“Argo” so far is one of the best films of 2012. It is very strong on many aspects and does a lot of things right. The six diplomats could have used a bit more developing time to strengthen the characters, however, when it comes to the film overall, it is still interesting, suspenseful and engaging. Very high 4 out of 5.
This review was first published in the Oct. 19, 2012 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News.