Better Than THE TOWN
Between a screenplay and the finished film, many changes can occur. With Argo, writer Chris Terrio may have failed on the page -- however, actor/director Ben Affleck succeeds by delivering a highly cinematic, suspenseful tale. Before I elaborate, it’s important for me to predict that editor William C. Goldenberg will probably be nominated for an Oscar. And, given his track record, I think he deserves to win.
There’s trouble in Iran circa 1979. Americans at the embassy have been captured, yet six of them escape, ending up at the Canadian Ambassador’s house. Back home, the CIA have their top exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez (Affleck), come up with a plan. He intends setting up cover identities for the six, making them appear to be crew members scouting locations for a Hollywood science-fiction movie called Argo.
Back stories remain in the background as Affleck builds up the tension along with his gifted right hand man, Goldenberg. A previous nominee for Seabiscuit, Goldenberg does not sugar coat Argo for a second. There are some indications that it might go sentimental in parts, yet the discipline shown here proves most inspiring.
Co-produced by Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Argo waits to unleash its power upon you. Consider the score, a subdued number by Alexandre Desplat -- no stranger to politically-charged thrillers, having scored Syriana. This composer holds back, not doing very much until the dramatic finale, which can be a little frustrating although I consider it a minor quibble in a terrifically mounted piece.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto uses grainy film stock to bring his imagery down to earth, taking the polish away. It enhances the immediacy of the situation, a bit like how an independent production would look.
The whole film carries itself on the strength of Affleck’s convictions. In his previous directorial effort The Town, he made leaps and bounds in terms of actor-friendly technique. In Argo, he paints broader strokes. Between the two films, the latter will be remembered more for giving the audience informed entertainment. A lot depends upon what the viewer brings to the movie in terms of experience, empathy and personal development.
Seeing Alan Arkin and John Goodman as two Hollywood insiders who help Affleck adds a touch of class to the proscenium. Arkin does better work than Goodman, probably due to the way he delivers his juicy one-liners. Overall, both thespians should be proud of an artistic achievement, which transcends words on a page to become something truly special.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "R" by MPAA.)