Movie review: Argo

By Columbus Alive
From the October 11, 2012 edition

Hey, remember that time when Ben Affleck seemed like a marginally talented pretty-boy actor who made questionable career choices? Like, right around “Daredevil”? Well, that guy’s turned out to be a damn fine director.

His feature debut “Gone Baby Gone” showed him to be a fine actor’s director — even if the Boston setting and casting of his brother Casey didn’t give the feeling he’d have much range.

He followed that up with “The Town,” a pot-boiler of a bank heist film that was drum-tight and crazy entertaining.

With “Argo,” he takes a too-crazy-to-be-true true story and a killer ensemble cast to probably find himself mentioned on the Oscar short list at year’s end. Not bad, Ben.

In 1979, as the Iranian revolution boils over, six Americans escape from chaos at the American embassy in Tehran. They take refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, but the chaos of the situation offers them slim chances at escaping the country.

Back in the States, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck), an “exfiltration” expert, hatches a wild plan to get them out. Mendez will pose as a producer scouting a location for a sci-fi flick called “Argo,” with the hopes of convincing Iranian authorities the six Americans are really a Canadian film crew.

If it were a film pitch, it would be dismissed as implausible. But it really happened, according to now-declassified reports.

In the first act, Affleck paints a vivid picture of the Iranian unrest of the time, meticulously recreating archival footage. The gravity of the situation is clear, but it sets up a lighter middle, as Mendez goes about setting up a fake movie.

Extracting the Americans from Iran is harrowing and breathless … imagine a tense spy flick, only without any gunplay.

It’s not quite high art, but Affleck makes a potboiler here, joining the upper ranks of actors-turned-directors. Nice job, Ben.