Movie Review: Complex ‘Argo’ showcases Affleck’s directing skills

Aliza Weinberger, Columnist

When I saw Ben Affleck’s directorial debut a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised. But now, in his third feature “Argo,” my high expectations were not only met, but exceeded. Affleck may be an A-list actor, but he’s also now on my list of all-time favorite directors.

“Argo,” which also stars Affleck in the midst of an all-star ensemble cast, is based on a true story from the Iranian hostage crisis of the early 1980s. While most of the American embassy workers had been taken hostage, six escaped unnoticed to the nearby Canadian ambassador’s house. The film is the story of the covert mission to get them home safely by creating a fake Hollywood sci-fi movie and smuggling them out as filmmakers on a location scout.

The tone of the film is a mixture of the usual Cold War-era spy drama, such as “The Good Shepherd” or “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” with a hint of heist film thrown in, like “Ocean’s Eleven.” The film as a whole is well-written with a tight but layered story that weaves between the different characters involved in the mission — the Americans trapped in Iran, various CIA and State Department agents and the team in Hollywood setting up the fake film — with Affleck’s character connecting them all. It was taut and suspenseful, but there were comedic scenes to break some of the tension, and the humor was wonderfully dry and clever. John Goodman and Alan Arkin were especially hilarious stealing scenes as the two Hollywood hitters in on the operation.

Set around 1980, the movie looked and felt completely authentic. From the clothes to the set dressing to the film stock, the production design and mood of the movie ground the viewer in history. Affleck also used different types of film, such as news coverage and home videos, to help tell the story and to keep the more plot-heavy parts of the movie from getting stale. The overall effect was a rich period piece that perfectly balanced tension and suspense with enough wit to keep things interesting.

Some may scoff at the idea of a high-profile actor like Ben Affleck turning to directing, but if he continues to make films like “Argo,” then I’m sure he’ll join Clint Eastwood in cinematic history as one of the few A-listers with successful careers on both sides of the camera.