The common tale of the washed up actor is not a pleasant one. Many turn to substances of which they abuse, or to alternative cries for help. It’s a silly thing to say, but it’s sadly true. In this article, however, it is even sillier because we have ourselves an actor that never really made it through his talents and certainly not through his previous career choices. Instead of being addicted to other things, Ben Affleck, former Hollywood punch line, became addicted to film making. Recognizing that his biggest claim to fame for years was helping co-write Good Will Hunting, many joked about just how much of a say he truly had with the writing process. People were befuddled with Gone, Baby, Gone in the middle of the last decade because they weren’t sure if this actor managed to make a lucky first film. Then 2010’s The Town really made people turn their heads and truly see Affleck as the filmmaker he is. However, while The Town was truly a great film, we had yet to see the poetic nature and the smarts that somehow all could comprehend that Good Will Hunting had. He has yet to write (or co-write) a script of that nature, but now we have proof that he can create a film of such depth and cinematic sanctity with his newest, and best, release Argo.
Argo is the riveting story about six American diplomats stuck in Iran during the Iran hostage crisis of the late 70’s. Affleck’s character, Tony Mendez, works in the CIA and when the CIA learns about the missing diplomats and their need to be rescued, all ideas fail until Mendez comes up with this absurd plot: Pretend they are scouting for locations to shoot a science fiction film at. This idea is bizarre, and the movie knows it is bizarre, because it pokes fun at it many a time. In fact, there is a beautiful scene where this plan is being brought into action as people are in silly costumes trying to replicate what may be shot in the movie, while footage of what is happening in Iran is going on. Usually a contrast like this would fail oh so terribly, but here, where you know that the people back in California can’t go any faster, the contrast is positively shocking. You then realize that, good God, this idea is absolutely insane, and from there on in you suddenly begin to fear the possibility of it failing.
To help you stay on track, you have three equally daring men: Mendez’s supervisor O’Donnell (played by Bryan Cranston), Hollywood make up specialist John Chambers (played by John Goodman), and finally the foul mouthed producer Siegel (lived by Alan Arkin). You believe their approval of the operation not just by the film’s great pacing and spectacular editing (they cut right to the chase, mid conversation, skipping all of the filler introduction based nonsense), but also because of the severity of the situation (one you will pick up on as the film begins to speed up). It is also worth noting that, unlike The Town, where Affleck may have gotten carried away, Affleck gives a pretty admirable performance and actually restrains himself from being the focal point of the movie. His subdued attitude and relaxed confidence helps the movie coast along when everybody else is on the verge of disbelief or losing their patience. Congratulations, Affleck. You may have given your most emotive performance yet and you were surprisingly calm and collected in doing so.
What really sets Argo apart from most films this year is the fact that it is somewhat difficult to classify, even though it really isn’t a movie that goes all out in being unclassifiable. It has the story and pacing of a political thriller, it has the first act of complete hilarity of a good dramedy, and it is so focused visually that it could very well be somewhat of a period piece (the graininess and the editing to mimic movies of the 70’s, particularly All The President’s Men, is a very nice touch). In the end you can call it a thriller, but I’d rather call it captivating. The opening scene is breathtaking and you are emotionally invested right away. You go along with the awkwardly dark jokes, the crazy idea, and the brilliant development of this project. Argo is straight forward enough to be easy to follow, yet full of complexity for the biggest of film snobs to be shushed by, especially those who will to find something wrong with a film Affleck has made. They can try all they want, but in the end, it’s better to accept Argo for what it is: A very well made film, where you can understand the perspectives of absolutely everybody involved and understand the threatening conditions of all, even when something as silly as a low budget science fiction movie is involved.