I’ve never really liked Ben Affleck as an actor all that much. He’s been in very good movies, but his performance was never really a standout. That is, until he turned to directing. His debut “Gone Baby Gone” was a great surprise, and his follow-up “The Town” just reaffirmed him as a really great director. Now, with his third feature “Argo,” Affleck has crafted his best film yet, as a somewhat unbalanced but still very funny and tense thriller.
During the Iranian revolution in 1979, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overtaken and 52 hostages were held. However six Americans escaped, and hid out in the Canadian ambassadors home. CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) was brought in to conceive of a plan to get the hostages out safely. Mendez’s plan? Pretend they’re shooting a science fiction movie in Iran and that the six hostages are members of the film crew. To make their cover appear more legitimate, Mendez requests the help of makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).
The true story that it’s based on is pretty insane and compelling, and that’s what keeps “Argo” going for most of the run-time. Screenwriter Chris Terrio does a good job grounding the story, while balancing the humor of it with the terror of the events in Iran. Affleck ramps up the suspense and tension all the way through, but as an actor, he’s just…present. If there’s any flaw to the film (and his last outing “The Town” as well) it’s Affleck casting himself as the lead. He’s not unlikeable but he doesn’t really end up doing much with a character based on a more interesting person.
Goodman and Arkin are both great, bringing some of the funniest moments of the film and a lot of energy to it, but sadly after act one they all but disappear, and we’re left with Affleck and the six Americans he has to get out of Iran. That point, it becomes much more of a thriller than a sort of Hollywood satire, which is a little jarring at first, but once you’re in it for a bit it’s just as enjoyable. Bryan Cranston is in the film as well, as Affleck’s boss, and he does a great job for his limited screen time, running around CIA headquarters barking orders at people.
So aside from a terrible opening montage where the Iranian revolution is explained, and a lackluster performance by Affleck, “Argo” is a great thriller and a big win for everyone involved, with a third act so tense you may just fall off the edge of your seat. It’s easily his best film yet, and makes me even more excited for what he does next.