As I mentioned in the Looper piece last week, Ben Affleck is one of the five directors whose work I most look forward to. If his first two forays into the world of film direction (Gone Baby Gone and The Town, if you've been living under a rock) showed us anything, it is that Ben Affleck is a natural at crafting taut action thrillers. With Argo, Affleck has stepped up his game and all but ensured himself and his film multiple Oscar nominations.
As you should expect by this point, you'll not find me going into plot at length. As is always the point in these Man on Film columns, this is a reaction to the film, but I wouldn't want to spoil anything for you, even with a film where the ending is not a surprise to most of the audience. What I will say about the plot here is going to be extremely general. The storytelling is exceptionally taut. There are no wasted moments on screen. Everything (at least eventually) serves to advance the plot.
Perhaps more importantly, Affleck proves to be able to adroitly ratchet up the tension at each thriller beat, especially at the brilliantly directed climax. He proves to be among the best directors out there at crafting the intellectual action-thriller with an emotional core that never rings hollow or false.
From an artistic or filmic standpoint, Argo breathtaking. The mise-en-scene of the film seems to perfectly capture the world at the end of the Carter presidency. The film stock (or filtering) hearkens back to the political thrillers of the late 1970s or early '80s. The art direction, wardrobe, soundtrack, and production design brilliantly transport the audience to the era therein, demonstrating a painstaking attention to detail that to lesser directors would be afterthoughts but show Affleck's dedication to the art of film-making.
Then there is the cast. Three films into his directorial career, it is evident that actors are going to gladly step in for lesser roles just to be in Affleck's projects. This time around, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Philip Baker Hall, Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Parks, Richard Kind, and Titus Welliver join in for fairly small roles, complimenting a principle cast that already has Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, Tate Donovan, and Victor Garber. Affleck also rounds out his cast with smaller character actors and '90s indie kids like Rory Cochrane (Dazed and Confused reunion) or Clea DuVall or Tom Lenk. And the cast is great. Goodman and Arkin chew up the scenery in their brilliantly acerbic scenes in Hollywood--a segment of the film that allows Affleck to satirically send up the fucked up machine that tried to devour him whole and summarily dispose of him in the early Aughts. The rest of the cast is perfectly suited for what they are called upon to do. Garber quietly plays the part of the Canadian Ambassador with such a penchant for subtlety and subduction that makes you wish he was cast in everything. Chandler, Cranston, Messina, Donovan, and Welliver all do exactly what any fan of their respective television work has come to appreciate and expect given their impressive body of work.
I could continue to heap praise on this film. I could talk about the nostalgia of seeing the McDonald's wrappers of my youth or the strange pride I feel at Affleck having validated the years and years of unmitigated and extremely vocal support of someone I do not know at all, but that would mean that you'd still be reading this and not heading out to the theater to see this film. I figured out that this was the 41st movie I've seen in this calendar year and while The Avengers and Looper and Killer Joe and Beasts of the Southern Wild (reviews to come on those last two) were great, I don't know that I've seen a film other than maybe The Master this year that comes close to being as great as Argo was.