Ben Affleck’s “Argo” really surprised me. I was not all that interested in seeing it until a friend invited me to see it. I’m glad I did.
One of the things I loved most about the film was the restraint. Characters acted like real people. The drama arose from the circumstances, not from hyperinflated Hollywood dialogue designed to make scenes feel dramatic. There was no overacting and the characters were believable. Restraint in the cinematography was also well done. The film was able to maintain that “movie feel” without ever drawing attention to gimmicky camera sweeps or angles. The same can be said for the 1970s period clothes, props and environment — not once did you feel you were being hit over the head with bell-bottoms and sideburns with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge that they are doing a period piece.
While I can’t say for sure, I’m guessing there was some Hollywood-ization of the plot and storyline to amp up the incredibly well-created tension, but it felt organic. The opening scene with the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Iran was pitch-perfect for putting the viewer into the shoes of those in the embassy building. I particularly enjoyed the gradual piecing together of the shredded photos of the U.S. citizens throughout the film, and hope that was something that really happened rather than something dreamed up by the screenwriter. Regardless, it was a clever approach using low-tech methods of the era to build tension.
I did feel that there were a few spots where the pacing was lost and the tensions deflated a bit, in particular during the second half of the film when the story cuts to the situation back in Hollywood. I feel they spent too much time in some of the Hollywood scenes once the tension in Iran was really coming to a head. Perhaps this is a psychological device to ramp up the tension by deflating it a bit before ramping it back up, but it didn’t work for me. There were also a few scenes in the Canadian Embassy hideout scenes where the Americans seemed a bit too casual for their situation, especially the partying the night before they were to make their big escape.
While I typically do not find Affleck to be a good actor, he did a great job in Argo. His character was played in a very understated manner which suited Affleck well. Part of me feels that he shouldn’t have casted himself in the role. I always wonder what other actors in films where the director also stars think of this. Seems a bit of hubris to me.
Argo felt like the right balance of a thriller from the 1970s, but with a more modern sense of pacing and editing (which a lot of older films suffer from). It never veers into frenetic or showy, but also avoids laborious or awkward edits that can make watching older films a bit of a chore.
Despite some minor complaints, Argo is an excellent, well-crafted political thriller.