The Reel Deal
A Reel Deal Film Review
By Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5
“BEN AFFLECK’S SECOND ACT”
Argo is one of this year’s few pleasant surprises you can find at your local theater. Ben Affleck’s second act, in his relatively new career as director, I can now confidently say, has been an astounding success. Three films and five years into this new career and he’s made two great films and one decent one. Gone Baby Gone was an exciting debut, darker and grittier than anyone expected for the pretty boy from Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Though The Town disappointed a bit, it was mostly due to the high bar Affleck had set for himself with his first directorial outing. And yet, upon seeing the Argo trailer months ago, I was worried that this, his third directed movie, would continue a trend downward, forever destroying the high hopes I had post-Gone Baby Gone. The trailer just didn’t sell me on it. So imagine my surprise when Argo turned out to be Affleck’s finest film yet.
He managed to make a film entirely of both the past and the present. It is more than merely a throwback to cinema past, but it is surely atavistic, and mines the past eras in film history to tell a story from the past that has as much to say about our present as any other cinema story released this year. Though it harkens back to film history as much as The Artist did last year, unlike that movie, it doesn’t feel like a gimmicky exercise, it feels like this was the only way this specific story could be told. Affleck, in interviews, has name-checked everything from John Cassavettes’s Killing of a Chinese Bookie to Matt Reeves’s recent Let Me In as intended or unintended influences on Argo, but the major borrowings of style and substance come from 1970s political thrillers (think Alan J. Pakula and Sidney Lumet). Because the story takes place in that era, Affleck made a conscious attempt to mine that era’s cinematic style. Even the logo Affleck used is the old Warner Brothers logo from that period.
Yet, though there’s much borrowed, Argo doesn’t strike one as dated, but current. The scenes in America may feel entirely of the 70s–music and wardrobe help to ground them in that decade–but the footage in Iran feels mostly timeless, in the sense that it could be the Iran of today as much as the Iran of four decades ago. And so, while it speaks of an uncannily true political story from the late 70s / early 80s, it definitely also speaks to our current political situation.
Though Argo is a true story–and one that was tailor-made for the silver screen–plenty of the facts are altered for effect, but that’s a classic Hollywood move that’s hard to fault, so long as the stretchings of the truth further the picture at hand. For the first three quarters of the film, I would say they definitely do. Towards the end, I admit, the film got a bit too heavy on the Hollywood cliches, and a bit too loose with the facts, but still it hardly bothered me because what the film was about in theory was being utilized in practice: the power of storytelling “truth” to go beyond notions of factual “truth.” Argo tells a powerful story, that reflects and refracts bits of the extraordinary facts of history, exploring our present while mining our past.
Argo is a film directed by Ben Affleck, written by Chris Terrio, based on an article by Joshuah Bearman. It stars Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Victor Garber. A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures
Design by Jillian Mercado
Film Still from Argo, Photography Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures