Nov 14 2012 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
Ben Affleck has come a long way since the days of Gigli and J-Lo.
Once a figure of fun, he has reinvented himself as one of Hollywood’s best up and coming directors (Gone Baby Gone, The Town) and proved he can act.
His third directorial feature, Argo, is based loosely on the true story of CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez’s (played by Affleck) mission to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of a 1980 revolutionary Iran by creating a phony Canadian sci-fi film project.
Affleck takes himself out of the Boston-based comfort zone of his previous efforts behind the camera to shoot in Los Angeles, Washington and Istanbul for this political outing with added modern resonance (US / Iran tensions).
He starts proceedings with the history of Iran being told using old footage and photos mixed with comic book-style storyboards and throughout the film characters are never far away from a television set broadcasting actual news footage from the time period.
Inexperienced writer Chris Terrio penned the screenplay based on an article by Joshuah Bearman and the script is full of fraught conversations and tense verification phone calls.
A gripping opening sees the US embassy in Iran under siege and a mad scramble to destroy files.
From there, the tone starts to shift during a Los Angeles-based sequence that satirises aspects of the movie industry (the Writers Guild of America being compared to the Ayatollah).
Here, Alan Arkin (Lester Siegel) and John Goodman (John Chambers) provide genuine warm-hearted humour, but this sequence felt a little out of place alongside the more serious subject matter and scenes of public executions.
But, luckily, Affleck is on fine form in front of the camera as a hero who fails to gain widespread recognition (“the whole country’s watching you. They just don’t know it”).
With Serpico-like hair and facial fuzz, Affleck is no Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer-style American government super spy toting guns and fists.
No, Mendez’s weapons are loyalty, commitment and the art of deception as his successful career comes at the cost of his home life (separation from wife and son).
He has to convince the six fugitives that pretending to be a film crew making a Star Wars inspired movie is their best ticket home and though the group don’t amount to a great deal more than moaners and groaners, Monsters’ Scoot McNairy (Joe) deserves praise for his angst-ridden turn that climaxes in a personal moment of step up to the plate glory.
A call from Bryan Cranston’s CIA boss to Mendez moves the goal posts and adds even more tension to an already seat-gripping climax, proving Affleck’s status as a modern master of suspense.
Argo doesn’t quite match Gone Baby Gone or The Town for quality but that just shows how much of an impression the one time star of Bounce has made in the director’s chair.