The propulsive hostage thriller
So wrote Antonio J. Mendez, the
Prior to "Argo," Affleck directed the Boston-set features "Gone Baby Gone" (2007) and "The Town" (2010), and his strengths are very old-school. Not to pin it on his jaw, but Affleck's directorial approach is what you might call square-jawed. The technique is not subtle or original; his camera always seems most comfortable when framing a sweaty face under duress in chin-to-hairline close-up. But Affleck's approach works; it gets the job done. At a key moment near the end of "Argo," a moment designed expressly for cathartic applause and a swell of relief, you know what happened the other night? The audience applauded.
The real stuff first. In 1979, the year of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” 52 Americans were taken hostage in
Mendez concocted a plan: Fly into Tehran, posing as a member of a Canadian film crew scouting exotic locations for a “
Most of “Argo” sticks with the fortunes of the escaped State Department officials, and once Mendez arrives in Tehran, the debates turn to their chances of surviving such a flagrant ruse. The film begins with noise and chaos, with the Iranian mob storming the embassy. Even when “Argo” is kicking back and taking time for more casual moments among the officials, the tensions (and the close-ups designed for tension) rarely cease. One of the peculiarities of the real-life situation was how the officials' days and nights in the home of the Canadian ambassador (
The film's Oscar nominations are presumed to be a sure thing. I do hope that Affleck, behind the camera, can learn the value of letting a shot play out more than four or five seconds. The script of "Argo" works from an extremely efficient outline of story beats and payoffs. It's not rich in portraiture; the State Department officials, all well played (I loved the moment when Kerry Bishe, as Kathy Stafford, lets loose with a laugh near the end), aren't especially well particularized on the page. As Mendez, Affleck's performance comes with a touch of Movie Tough Guydom that pushes "Argo" into familiar territory; a more neutral sort of anonymity might be closer to the real guy. I'm just guessing.
Parts of “Argo” belong strictly to the movies. Other parts, the best parts, have one foot in the movies and the other in a real-life pressure cooker. In the populist vein of