Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio
Produced by: Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Runtime: 120 minutes
Many Americans working in the US Embassy in Iran are held as hostages during that unfortunate event when Iranian revolutionaries decide to finally break in the embassy. However, six of the employees were able to escape and they were given refuge by the Canadian ambassador in the country. The US government starts to conceptualize the different possible means to get the six out of Iran.
One night, as Tony Mendez, a CIA specialist, is talking to his son through phone while watching a sci-fi/fantasy film on television, he gets an idea to retrieve the escapees: to make a fake movie where the six will act as Canadian filmmakers scouting for location in Iran. With the help of a distinguished make-up artist and an acclaimed film producer, they set up everything: the film studio, the publicity, and the whole production to develop Argo, a new science fantasy film.
However, not much time is left, especially for Mendez, to execute their ultimate mission when shredded papers from the embassy are started to be reassembled and it is discovered that some of the embassy personnel, referring to the six employees, have indeed escaped.
Ben Affleck has been welcomed to Hollywood as a serious director through Gone Baby Gone. It is further established by his next feature The Town. Both are well-made, but true to what many have observed, he has continually grown as a filmmaker, and what we have here is actually his best film yet. This film demonstrates the level of expertise Affleck has already achieved in the art of storytelling. Every scene is threaded with a visible knowledge in control of the craft and understanding of the confidence in narrative needed for the material to work.
It is good material, by the way; a potent and surprisingly funny one, thanks to Chris Terrio’s clever screenplay. But when you watch the movie, it is all about Ben Affleck giving his best as the film’s director. My only qualm for giving his work the recognition a great directorial work would get from me is that he did not go for the daring and the dangerous. You see, I do not have any problems with films sticking to the convention; I am completely fine with that. But when you have this kind of material, one should at least realize the potential that there can be a riskier and bolder treatment for the material. That stops me from giving the film the utmost reverence. It could have been really more than a very well-made. I am specifically pointing at the film’s final act. It is a very thrilling climax for the film.
My other complaint also stems from the fact that the ending is not in sync with the film’s stream of threat. This is also Affleck’s problem with The Town, and sadly, it is still seen here. Again, do not have anything against heart-warming endings; I love those kinds of endings. But when you have a thriller that relentlessly creates an atmosphere of dread throughout all its suspenseful machinations and moments of biting humor, I do not think that a soft-hearted ending fits to become the closing moment of the film. But to just clarify things, I am far from being a hater of this film. The work is commendable, and I am sure it is successful to me the same way that it is to others, but my preference for a more complex and intrepid final act slightly diminishes my high regard for this film.
Every cinematic aspect is in its top form: the polished cinematography, the superb editing, effective sound work, and excellent music score, among other things. And what the film deserved in that point is an audacious treatment to it. Not that the execution is not notable. It is, but there is a small feeling inside me saying that it could have been more. And when the moment of realization comes to me, it somewhat lessens the impact of the film. It is still potent work, however.
As Affleck is left with the biggest task of being the film’s visionary, he also has the task of carrying the film as the lead character Tony Mendez, and what he does in his role is worth mentioning. He keeps his interpretation of this man Mendez grounded in truth and honesty; it is a low-key role appropriated with a subdued performance that serve the film’s purpose. Also in display are the solid performances of Bryan Cranston as the Mendez’s supervisor, John Goodman as the make-up artist, and Alan Arkin as the film producer, among others.
The film really has the makings of a really strong thriller film, and it is. However, one cannot help but notice what it could have been. It could have been more, and I mean it, a lot more than it is. And I am saying this while taking into consideration the fact that the filmmakers, especially Affleck, has shown signs that they are capable of doing something extraordinary, but right at that very moment when the first cliché, one can be really frustrated by the fact that the film can be better than that. However, I will not take away anything from the film’s worth: it is a gripping political thriller.
For this, the film gets: