Renaissance man Ben Affleck has now undoubtedly etched out a re-ignited career as a Director.
With a talent first suggested by Gone Baby Gone and built on in The Town; Ben’s repositioned fallen star now firmly sits atop of Hollywood with this best picture Oscar winner.
What better way to confirm those credentials then? Indeed, but not solely with statuesque glory but in tackling the always difficult political hot potato of US – Middle East relations by telling the story of a sextet of escapees from a besieged American embassy in Tehran in 1979 and an outlandish great escape plan.
Argo is a story a director simply elects to helm when there’s no guarantee of glory in a bumper year of film (Argo only gained awards momentum late on); Affleck, in what is still a relatively fledgling directing career, perhaps could have picked anything to chair, instead showing courage to direct a personal project that’s clearly close to his and patriot’s hearts and minds.
Disparaged for historical inaccuracies and giving slim credit to Canada’s pivotal role, Affleck mutes these critical points with a sleight of hand in handling a multi-faceted tale; yes it’s expectedly gritty and grimy in its turn of the decade setting, with period chic and steady cam visuals capturing a time now appearing ancient; But in handling a globe trekking tale with Hollywood satire dovetailing middle eastern tension all while Washington oversees, there’s clear potential for it to all get too entangled.
Argo flows seamlessly though with expert pacing aided by reserved editing that keeps another potentially bland political tale on point and compelling right along to the climatic airport escape.
Not dwelling overlong in anyone place to create a multi genre movie, Affleck’s CIA extractor first goes to Hollywood to create the elaborate cover of Argo -the space adventure, the absurd ticket into Iran that would create least suspicion?
With the help of Producer Alan Arkin and make up man John Goodman the revealing industry satire brings lightness and laughs as the REAL process of producing a picture from story boards, press releases and conferences ushers in Argo the trip, as the initially implausible plot gains brilliant momentum and bookends with a tense finale that completely hinges on the believability of the created fantasy.
Prior in DC’s spy room spit-balling, various extraction plans for the incarnated diplomats demonstrate Affleck’s protagonist’s field expertise and bring another welcome turn from Bryan Cranston as the CIA project lead and Big Ben’s ‘I got your back’ man.
Tehran’s gritty setting is where most of the pulse raising action takes place with a downtown bazaar dress rehearsal building the tension for the real one-take escape; but much of the diplomat’s prior in-house dramatics remain stoic and mostly unmoving, making it hard to feel for the party when they’re much like the sheep that follow Ben the Shepard. Their house arrest lacks the true intensity of true imprisonment or conveys a painful passage of time.
The Tehran six remain mostly underdeveloped as a flock, with only Scoot McNairy’s master plan oppositionist emerging from cynic to key player at the crisis point. The focal point of the mission to rescue the escapees underplays the plight of the larger number of hostages still in the embassy, surely the more perilous part of the story that goes mostly untouched?
Affleck brings the key sentiment though in an understated central performance on which the majority of Argo relies; without grandeur and revealing little of a troubled man, the subplot of the international family man of mystery back burns, sparing the often seen domestic fallout and the incumbent histrionics; being well known already that spies and family don’t manage Affleck’s reluctant hero is left to focus on the mission, while revealing just enough of his undoubted inner anguish.
In the Triumphant climax the saccharine high fiving seems out of canter with a mostly modest and respectful retelling and while the Canadian role in the crisis is acknowledged as an example of international cooperation in a pre-end titles eulogy and fleeting references, that nation’s part against fact is significantly underplayed when seen only to provide refuge for the underground agents.
When excusing the inconsistencies though, Argo is viewed as a superb piece of sweaty palm cinema handled expertly by a director who can now be firmly considered as the real deal. Certainly, liberties are taken, but artistic licence makes for a more entertaining part fiction that enthralls and is never leaden; As relevant and as current as ever too when telling another significant tale of the historic and present US involvement in an unstable region, perhaps making Affleck’s highpoint the most appropriate choice for award from a partisan academy.