Director: Ben Affleck.
Starring: Ben Affleck (again), Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Scoot McNairy
Run Time: 120 minutes.
Based on the declassified true story (as the tagline goes), Argo reveals the successful plot by the CIA to rescue American embassy workers during the 1979 Iranian revolution. ‘Exfiltration specialist’ Tony Mendez (our hero, so of course Ben Affleck cast himself) is tasked with this impossible mission, and devises a plan so stupid it might just work. He proposes having himself and the fugitives pretend to be a Canadian film crew location scouting for Sci-Fi epic Argo, the only problem being that the film doesn’t exist and is completely fabricated for the sole purpose of fooling Iranian authorities.
I remember reading about this ‘you couldn’t make it up’ story a few years ago, and being astounded by the audacity, foolishness and sheer testicular fortitude on display. I love this type of madcap story that always seem to be conjured by the military or government, and was fairly excited when a screenplay had been announced for a movie adaptation (a movie about making a fake movie no less, a film lover’s wet dream).
Then it was announced that Ben Affleck was due to direct, and my interest cooled somewhat. I really enjoyed his debut directorial feature, Gone Baby Gone (2007), but thought his follow up, The Town (2010) was a massive turd, almost making me physically sick after viewing it. This would be the true acid test, and help me decide whether Bennifer is an up and coming auteur to watch, or a talentless hack that got very lucky and consistently rides the coat tails of others.
For me, the main difference between his first two features (and the reason I hated one and liked the other) was that he only decided to act in one of them. Obviously, when I saw Affleck was to star in Argo I began to have serious reservations.
I wanted to give B-Fleck a second chance, I really did, and Argo starts well enough. The embassy siege is tense and disorientating, and the film has a grainy quality, placing us firmly in the past. The supporting cast of Arkin, Goodman and Cranston perform to their usually high standards, and each would have worked as a perfect foil if placed next to a competent leading man.
Chuckie Affleck is not a competent leading man. The only film roles of his I’ve enjoyed involve him playing an arsehole (Dogma, Good Will Hunting, Mallrats), but like Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio, I find it very hard to connect with him as a leading man, and find it impossible to get behind and root for him.
Much like Lawless, a more than able cast is overshadowed by the overexposure of a talentless prick. Argo is supposed to be about a hostage crisis (and I understand his role is pivotal) but he has such a disproportionate time on screen to everyone else that it becomes his story (much like his big bearded gormless face plastered front and centre on every piece of promotional material). What annoys me the most is that as director, it was his own choice to play the film’s main star, making me feel that it was a conscious and arrogant decision taken to boost his own ego, bank balance and standing in Hollywood. It was the same with The Town, with his character in both films possessing all of the clichéd tropes to make us like him (bank robber with a heart of gold who helps disadvantaged kids in The Town, and a maverick loose cannon who gets the job done and is only trying to do right by his kid in Argo).
I cringed and tried to melt into my seat on seeing him for the first time in Argo, passed out face down on a bed surrounded by noodle boxes and overflowing ashtrays. It smacked of lazy film making and self indulgence, and takes away from any of the good points of the film. The tone of the film works in some parts, trying hard to move between bureaucratic humour and nail biting Iranian tension, but the plot becomes tedious after a great start, and doesn’t elaborate on the inner workings of the ‘Hollywood Option’ enough, making it feel rushed and disjointed. It does pick up into a decent tense and chaotic finale, but by then the damage has already been done. Less Ben Affleck could have remedied most of these points, but then whose face would we look at for two hours? We even have an inexplicable topless scene for fucks sake! He isn’t even with a woman; he just changes his shirt for no reason.
It’s such a shame, as the film could have worked. I’m not saying Affleck is a bad director, but a lot of people could give film making a go with the support and funding he had behind him. He should stick to staying behind the camera, showing a competent touch and sympathetic eye for detail in parts (it didn’t try to glorify the east vs. west divide at any point, giving both sides a voice and context). As soon as he steps in front, problems begin to arise. Whether factually accurate or not, Argo had the potential to be a barnstorming period thriller, but due to Ben Affleck’s involvement, it was never meant to be. At best, it was a forgettable and plodding passion play, at worst a self indulgent and cynical marketing ploy for brand Affleck.
Score: 5 out of 10.
If you liked this, check out: Charlie Wilson’s War, Munich, Gone Baby Gone, Bowfinger.