Review: Argo

daniel cohen reviews the new ben affleck thriller…

Plot: Set in 1980, and based on the true story of the CIA’s plan to help six missing American embassy workers escape from Iran using a fake movie production known as ‘Argo.’

Why wasn’t Ben Affleck directing movies a long time ago? Why was he wasting time with films like Jersey Girl? There’s no sense in thinking about it now though, because Affleck is quickly moving up the ranks of today’s best Hollywood directors. Argo is tight, funny, and a tense as all hell piece of filmmaking, and one of the best things Affleck has ever been involved with. The movie sort of flows like a serious Ocean’s 11, minus all the stylized action. But even with all the intense and sweat driven moments, Affleck manages to infuse a lot of subtle humor, thanks in large part to the countless number of great actors who all have great little moments, even if they aren’t on screen very long.

One of the actors I really enjoyed was Bryan Cranston, who plays Jack O’Donnell, Affleck’s CIA supervisor. We all know Cranston is a great actor, but to be honest, he’s been in so many movies lately where he’s been completely unnecessary and underutilized, that he was starting to get on my nerves. But here, he finally has a purpose, and was fantastic. Cranston really got to show his versatility – he’s funny at times, but also downright intense and authoritative. He was finally in a good movie for a change.

The two guys who really provided the comic relief though were John Goodman and Alan Arkin. They play the film executives who are heavily involved in creating this fake movie as part of the plan to help the six Americans. The second act is where all the fake movie stuff takes place such as creating a phony production office, doing a table read, and this is where the comedy really seeps in. Both Goodman and Arkin are just a delight, spewing one-liners left and right. I don’t think anyone here is going to win an Oscar, but they are just great supporting players who pop up at the right times.

The protagonist though is of course Affleck as Tony Mendez, the man responsible for getting these guys out of Iran. As an actor, I usually like Affleck in doses. When he’s a supporting player like in Boiler Room or Good Will Hunting, I love him, but as a lead actor, he’s hit or miss. This was one of his better acting jobs. He’s got a lot of screen time by himself, and he carries it well. His best moments though are when he’s bonding with the six refugees. And this is where the real heart of the movie is. Affleck does a great job of showing how much weight is on this guy, for not only this being his plan, but also being the one responsible to execute it. Some of the best scenes of the film are when Mendez has to encourage them, or on the opposite end when he’s driving them hard to learn the fake identities that have been created for them. The acting of the six refugees is stellar as well. And even though we only get a taste of their personalities, it’s just enough to build conflict, and it’s great watching them act as a unit.

As great as all the characters and acting were though, the best element to this film is the tension. The first 15 minutes are heart pounding enough as the citizens of Iran riot into the embassy, but it’s the last act of this film that is just one big ball of tension coming at all sides and locales, and Affleck does a masterful job of melding it altogether. I barely remember blinking in the last twenty minutes. Without spoiling anything, there are so many moments where you just want to scream at the screen and shout ‘get that done, already,’ or ‘Come on, just get to your office!’ These will all make sense once you see the movie. The last act is simply incredible, and should be enough to get Affleck a directing nomination. Affleck as the director is the true star of the film. The one criticism I have though is that it’s so tense, that it’s a little much at times. There were definitely a couple moments here and there where the tension building was too much. But I’d rather have more then less, especially in a movie like this.

The other main criticism I have is that as much as I liked and sympathized with Affleck’s character, they try and do some family stuff with him that was way too underdeveloped and forced. The relationship between him and the lost Americans was enough that you didn’t need to force feed the ‘broken marriage/I also have a kid’ storyline. Although, it does make for a really powerful last shot of the film.

Argo is two hours long, but it flies by. There isn’t one wasted moment in this film. It’s intense, but it’s also light, it’s got a lot of humor, but it never loses sight of the severity of what’s going on. I can’t wait to see what Affleck does next.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.