director Ben Affleck
viewed: 01/23/2013 at Embarcadero Cinema, SF, CA
Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves themselves their actors turned directors. Robert Redford. Clint Eastwood. Kevin Costner. Mel Gibson, fercryinoutloud. Now Ben Affleck.
Well, Ben was left off the Best Director list this year, so maybe they don’t quite love him enough. They do love him enough that Argo is a front-runner for Best Picture. And the Hollywood Foreign Press loved him enough to give him a Golden Globe for Best Director.
The fact is that he’s average perhaps as a director, really. I’ve seen Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010) and now Argo and as a director he’s capable but not noteworthy. And Argo, also, is capable but not spectacular.
The story behind Argo, referred to according to Wikipedia as the “Canadian Caper”, is the sort of plot that pretty much writes itself and its ticket to success. It’s about a rescue mission in Iran in 1980 to extract six government workers trapped in the Canadian ambassador’s house while a massive turnabout in Iranian politics exposed the anger at American intervention and ended up with 52 American hostages during the crisis. The rescue mission revolved around the pretense of a sci-fi film being scouted in Tehran, and that with Canadian passports and sleights of espionage-coated hands, the workers would escape pretending to be working on a movie. So it’s an spy thriller, based on real events, with a dash of Hollywood baked in.
That is an easy sell. And it’s quite fascinating. Of course, the movie is all about the CIA and American heroes, but you know…it’s a movie.
Affleck and I are close in age and I guess that his interest in the events is somewhat like my own. I fully remember this time in the world and much of the events, though in a haze of childhood, not really following it blow by blow. But tripping back to 1979, Affleck is obsessed with the details of the period. His character has a child who would have been probably about Affleck’s age at the time. His room is covered with Star Wars (1977) and Planet of the Apes (1968) gear. All of the men have the most unfortunate haircuts and facial hair. Even Affleck, who plays the hero CIA agent, has an unwieldy mop of hair and a beard. The film is also peppered with television news tidbits and talking heads of the period. Heck, the movie even uses a Warner Brothers logo of the time that looks like Atari or something.
There is also an odd wistfulness for Star Wars in this dream of a Star Wars knock-off, the fake film Argo which they build up in Hollywood like a real thing. Affleck’s character retains one storyboard for his son, and there is almost a sense of “wouldn’t it have been more fun, if less meaningful, to have made a space opera?” I mean, we rescued people…but it’s all classified and there’s no action figures.
Alan Arkin, as the fake movie’s producer, gets all of the good lines. There are a number of “cheap shot” gags about Hollywood in the “making” of a fake movie. It’s not really the film’s focal point, but it is the film’s largest sense of humor.
The rest of the film, and Affleck’s performance in general, are sincere, serious, and kind of businesslike. “We’re dealing with real stuff here. Let’s not be flashy.” And Affleck’s performance, while not particularly special is understated enough not to draw too much unwonted attention.
It’s a fine film, a decent film. Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just not nearly as good or interesting as you may have heard elsewhere.