When actor Ben Affleck turned director with his brilliantly staged “The Town” two years back, audiences and Hollywood took note. It was a tense, tautly realized. His latest effort, “Argo,” is much the same.
It is another finely textured and nuanced story, with excellent performances by his coterie of actors.
The story is about the 52 U.S Embassy employees who were taken hostage in 1979 by Iranian radicals. Six other embassy personnel managed to slip away to the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, played by Victor Garber who is equally terrific.
I was not familiar with this story before and almost didn’t believe it. One always is suspect when the first thing you see is the line “based on a true story.” But Affleck treats the material with sensitivity and nice cinematic touches.
The story opens with a narrator whose words evolve into comic book images, which become the fake science fiction fantasy movie “Argo.” Affleck’s character uses the movie as a cover story to rescue the hostages, who are trapped in the Canadian embassy in Tehran.
First, Affleck creates a cover story in the Hollywood-trade press, of all things, by holding an open reading at L.A.’s Beverly Hilton Hotel. Prospective actors, in full costume, come in to read. As an industry-person myself, the scene was terrifically accurate.
The movie is literally filled with excellent actors John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston and Tate Donovan.
Affleck has also filled the movie with experiences from his own movie-making, starting with “Good Will Hunting.” I almost expected Matt Damon to pop up in a cameo!
Arkin is simply sensational as a weather-beaten producer. In fact, when he first meets Affleck and Goodman, Arkin tells them to hurry up; he is receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in a matter of hours, an occurrence so common in Hollywood for aging actors! He is one of the best actors currently working today, no question.
Goodman, most recently in Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble With The Curve” is equally stellar. It’s amazing how guys like these have become so versatile and perform so well after years the business and each with so many great films under their belt. They do get better with age.
The scenes in Tehran are among the best as I almost felt like I was watching an episode of Homeland; the tension was palpable. And, we’d be remiss in not mentioning that besides his spot-on direction, Affleck really imbues the film (and, his character Tony Mendez) with a great vitality and dedication.
This is a great movie, certainly one the of the best this year so far. Produced by George Clooney, this has Oscar written all over it, with nominations I’m sure for Goodman, Arkin and Affleck. I loved it.
Next up for Affleck-the-director, a film with Damon that he will both direct and act in.