After an acting career filled with disappointments and terrible choices, Ben Affleck has started off his directing career by going two for two. Both Gone Baby Gone (which I have not seen) and The Town (a mediocre thriller raised to the next level by a talented cast) have received major critical notices and the latter was even a box office hit. However, Affleck’s latest directorial gig, Argo, has received the best notices of his career yet. That is deservedly so as Argo is an intense and extremely well directed thriller that has one of the most loaded casts in recent memory.
Argo follows the real life CIA undercover mission to get six Americans who escaped from the Tehran embassy during the Iranian Hostage Crisis out of Iran. Ben Affleck directs the film based on a screenplay by Chris Terrio (whose most prominent work to date is some work on the Glenn Close series Damages).
Ben Affleck finally proves with this film that he is the real deal as a director. His work is just stunning and you can see it take a hold of you almost immediately. The first scene of the film (a long sequence of the Iranians storming the US Embassy in Iran) is nail-bitingly-intense and is masterfully constructed. While the film never really reaches the height of the opening sequence again, it consistently gets close to that creative quality. It is a testament to Affleck’s direction that the audience is glued to almost every aspect about this film despite most people having the knowledge of how the story ends. While Chris Terrio’s script is nothing special (this is clearly a director’s film), it does a really good job of balancing a lot of characters and giving most of them at least one moment in the spotlight.
In terms of the cast, most will be talking about the four bigger roles in the film (those of Ben Affleck as CIA extractor Tony Mendez, Bryan Cranston as Tony’s boss, Alan Arkin as a Hollywood producer, and John Goodman as makeup artist John Chambers) but the amount of great performances go well beyond that. The already mentioned Cranston is best in show and really gets something to chew on in the intense third act. Affleck delivers one of the better performances of the year as the idealistic Mendez and Arkin and Goodman have great chemistry together as the source of most of the humor in the film. However, Tate Donovan and an almost unrecognizable Kerry Bishe are also great as two of the six American escapees. Other great actors that show up during the course of the film include the ubiquitous Chris Messina, Kyle “Coach” Chandler, Zeljko Ivanek and Victor Garber.
While Argo never really reaches beyond trying to tell a true story of American success, it makes up for its lack of ambition by being almost perfectly constructed. This is a film that is both a crowd-pleaser and a film that will keep cinephiles happy. In other words, watch out because this film will come up a lot during the awards season.