Ben Affleck is quickly on his way to becoming one of my favorite modern film directors. His complete re-invention as a mediocre actor to a very understated and incredibly complex director has been an experience worth watching unfold, and “Argo” is the further metamorphosis of a man who has miles to go to show everyone he’s anything but a pretty face. Affleck’s portrayal of an expert expatriate is nowhere near the sensationalistic character the director has the potential to depict him as. Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, a conflicted and troubled agent who has to sneak in to Iran to save the lives of a small group of people stuck in the middle of a violent revolt.
Affleck never opts for a wise cracking swift hero. Instead, Affleck plays Mendez as a man very much in fear for his life who is well aware of the task he’s been burdened with. Not only does he have to sneak in to Iran under a guise, but he has to manage to sneak out his clients and prevent needless bloodshed, much of which will include his own. Affleck hides his charm and trademark cleft under a thick bear and long dark locks that paint a man very much grounded in his work, and is in no need to put a fantastic gloss on what he does. Lives are at stake, and no matter what the cause or conflict, he has to ensure the safety of folks who are racing against the clock as riots thicken in the country and blood pours on the streets. Director Affleck strikes a consistent tone of urgency and immediacy, as Mendez must work against time to devise a crafty plan to ensure stealth in a country congested with paranoid revolutionaries. Inspired by a viewing of “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” Mendez appeals to the film loving nature of society by concocting a plan to build and create a fake science fiction film production.
One that will grant them access in to Iran for the sake of directing terrain for the film’s settings. Meeting with two experienced Hollywood veterans Lester Siegel, a film producer, and John Chambers, a legendary make up artist. Both men have to work with Mendez to ensure that literally everyone is aware of the fake science fiction film entitled “Argo,” so much so that even Iran will have a difficult time seeing through the deception. Much of Mendez’s time is spent playing the part of a man backing the film, while also trying to sneak in to Iran, and touch base with the escapees, all of whom have to build their own deceptions under a time crunch. The tension is often thick and incredibly gripping as Mendez scrambles to dance around foreign policy while trying to ensure that the potential war prisoners can inhabit their characters without breaking stride in the face of rising tension among the public. Every possible complication arises, and “Argo” never once ceases to depict these series of events as anything other than potentially deadly and gruesome, if Mendez makes a misstep along the way.
Affleck gives a riveting performance as Mendez, while John Goodman and Alan Arkin rise to the occasion as the Hollywood moguls that have to guide Mendez along on his charade, while also living the task of securing his life as he travels to Iran. Affleck thankfully trades eye appeal for credibility, giving the supporting roles to seasoned character actors like Kyle Chandler, and Tate Donovan, never once straying from the intent of the film to view this immense operation trickling under a wave of violence and unnecessary death. Affleck directs with a light and very stern dramatic tone, often injecting tension minute by minute. In the end, Affleck continues building his career with yet another truly excellent drama that carries with it substance, entertainment value, and relevance. Ben Affleck is a director who appreciates the art of storytelling and masters the rare virtue of restraint with a thriller that could have easily transformed in to Hollywood hokum. Instead “Argo” opts for genuine tension, rich characterization based around a wonderful cast, and a finale that will leave viewers clinging to their seats for dear life.