Film Review: Argo (Warner Bros.; 2012)

By Matthew Law

Since 2007, Ben Affleck has shown that he is not the poor relation. His acting ability had been overshadowed by Matt Damon and brother Casey for years, but since 2007 he has come into his own – as a director and actor.

In the past 5 years, he has written, directed, and starred in the two critically acclaimed films: Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Although Casey’s performance in Gone Baby… is brilliant, it was Affleck’s simple and effective direction that most impressed in these productions. Hence the anticipation surrounding Argo.

Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative engaged in the task of helping six American diplomats escape a hostage crisis in 1979 Iran. His idea: they impersonate a Canadian film crew. If this wasn't based on a true story it would sound like a fairly mundane idea for a screenplay, but, to give it its due, it actually works.

Still, it works, and it is an entertaining and engaging story, but it is nothing to rave about. These sentiments are also m

irrored in regards to the cinematography and editing. These three aspects do nothing wrong, in fact they are relatively faultless.  But they are nothing special.

The real highlights of the film come from the set design and the acting, both of which are very impressive. Affleck pulls this one out of the bag and ends up providing the standout performance, a surprise considering he is alongside veterans John Goodman and Bryan Cranston, who also put in strong performances. Affleck’s acting is solid, and he turns a potentially dull character into one that entertains.

Argo is a strange film. When you are watching the film, it is enjoyable, witty, and provides some nice thrills along the way. Though, when the film is done, nothing remains. It isn't memorable, it isn't fulfilling, and is one of those productions that, after Oscar season, will fade from the memories of those who ever witnessed it quite quickly.

This is frustrating because it could have been remedied. Yes, it is based on a true story, but that is no excuse for the poor quality of the screenplay. And it is a screenplay that does not do the story justice.  If anything, it makes a mockery of it, with countless historical inaccuracies and exaggerations. It makes one wonder why Affleck did not write the screenplay himself, as his dialogue construction in particular is normally natural and enjoyable – and an improvement in the screenplay, above all other minor flaws – could have turned Argo into an impressive – and memorable piece of cinema.