Ben Affleck’s directorial career is going from strength to strength with Argo rounding off a trio of impressive flicks.
Gone Baby Gone and The Town, both criminally under-watched, saw Affleck leap from a personal small-town kidnapping story to a Heat-style citywide tale of cops and robbers.
But with Argo, Affleck takes an even bigger leap into new territory.
This is his first film set predominantly in a different country, in a different time and with thousands of extras. Affleck has to negotiate the trappings of adapting a true story, whilst adhering to historical and cultural accuracy. He has also picked an obscure, little-known story to adapt and has to make that both relatable and entertaining. Without doubt, this is his most ambitious directorial outing.
However, Affleck’s confidence has been building and he impresses from the get-go. Decades of Iran’s history is tidily narrated through comic book-style storyboarding. This then launches into a siege of the Iranian US embassy, cranking up the tension with fast-paced, hand-held camera cutting, as the workers desperately try to shred documents and escape. It is a heart-stopping opening, rivalled only by the nail-biting final reel. As seen in The Town, Affleck is a master of suspense.
Affleck has also spent enough time in mainstream cinema to know how to convey a complicated story to a Friday night crowd and his script handles the exposition well, whilst also finding time to drop in one-liners and a bit of humour. “Argo f*ck yourself” is one such quote that has popped up on many a Facebook newsfeed these past few weeks.
Affleck’s rise to the directorial A-list is attracting a lot of talent and numerous familiar faces appear throughout. It is testament to Affleck’s integrity that he doesn’t just cast his Hollywood mates. Instead, he has selected much of his cast from popular TV. The supporting players can be recognised from shows such as Mad Men, Heroes, Scrubs, Friends (Joshua!) and Breaking Bad. Most, however, are unknown actors, cast for their likeness to the historical counterparts in order to maintain the documentary feel of the film.
As great as some of the actors are (Bryan Cranston has fun as a growly FBI agent, whilst John Goodman and Alan Arkin get the biggest laughs), you will struggle to remember any of their characters’ names. But Argo isn’t aiming for any nominations in the Best Actor category.
No, instead, Affleck has his sights firmly on Best Director.
And who can blame him? It has been a while since he won Best Screenplay for Good Will Hunting and he had to share that golden statue with his best mate, Matt Damon. Argo suggests Affleck fancies another stroll onto that stage.
His intentions are clear in his adherence to the winning Oscar formula: true story, critically-impressive, political commentary and America saves the day! The Academy will be lapping this up. Affleck has also chosen such a bizarre true story to adapt (retrieving seven Americans from militant Iran by posing as a film crew) that he also ticks the originality box as well.
Not that this is a criticism. Like the better Oscar-winning films, Argo never feels conceited when telling its story. Affleck’s pride as a story-teller would never allow for that. Plus, despite its Academy friendliness, this is still accomplished film-making, reminiscent of both Eastwood’s classical style and Gus Van Sant's documentary approach.
The Oscar race has begun. And Affleck’s directorial talents argoing to get noticed.