Ten years ago, if you had said that Ben Affleck could orchestrate a film with genuine Oscar-buzz, chances are you would have been laughed at or sent to therapy. In fact, at the 24th Golden Raspberry Awards in 2004, Affleck won the Worst Actor award for no less than three films (Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck). How times have changed…
After making the often attempted but rarely achieved jump from actor to director, Affleck has thus far excelled behind the camera. Starting off with the surprisingly enjoyable Gone Baby Gone and following that up with the even more impressive The Town, he’s certainly begun his directional career with overwhelming success. Argo, Affleck’s latest release is his most ambitious yet, taking on an unbelievable narrative and opting for more global locations than his beloved Boston. Believe it not though, the ambition has paid off big time, and the Affleck success train just keeps on chugging along.
Argo follows the staggering true story of a CIA rescue mission in the 1970’s, during the fiery heights of the Iranian Revolution. After the Iranians take over the U.S Embassy, 6 of the Americans that work there somehow manage to escape, and go into hiding at the Canadian Ambassador’s house. This all happens in the opening sequence of the film, and it’s really quite unbearable to watch. The rioting Iranians gradually boiling over into frenzy, combined with the slowly growing tension inside the embassy makes for uncomfortable viewing, culminating in a gut-wrenching moment when the rioters cut their way through the gate and break the threshold into the embassy.
Also, for those who don’t know much of the subject, Argo mercifully has a very neat and tidy, narrated montage at the beginning, which quickly explains the complicated political environment and has the audience up to scratch before the opening titles even start rolling.
The real extraordinary stuff stars when CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) formulates a plan to save the stranded Americans. His plan: to fly to Iran pretending to be a film producer scouting locations for his next big picture, pick up the Embassy workers, disguise them as his film crew and fly safely back to the States. Yes, you will spend much of this film exclaiming. “I cannot believe this actually happened!”
Affleck’s performance both sides of the camera are very impressive, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s also assembled a top quality supporting cast, the best of which include Bryan Cranston’s authoritative but likable CIA agent, and the truly inspired double act of Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Arkin and Goodman play the Hollywood big-shots hired to make the fake film as believable as possible, but their real role in Argo is to provide a splash of comic relief to what can be an incredibly tense films at times; like a real life Timone and Pumbaa.
What Ben Affleck has done this film is create a fusion of different elements of cinema and done so effectively. The end result is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a film, made up from parts of different films from different genres. You have the suave spy movie set back at CIA Headquarters, a comedic caper film set in Hollywood, and a gritty and tension-filled thriller set in Iran. Does it work? Yes, yes it does. So it looks as though Affleck’s directing career is still on the up… he’s even got the beard now.