By MICHAEL WALTERS
Ben Affleck takes on his most ambitious project yet as a director with “Argo,” the true story of a CIA operation to spring six American diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
When an Iranian mob took over the U.S. embassy, six diplomats escaped and took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Affleck plays a CIA operative who hatches a plan to get them over the border by creating a cover story of a Canadian movie crew coming to shoot a new science fiction movie.
“Argo” is a big Hollywood production through and through, but it’s artfully done. Affleck hides behind a shaggy ‘70s beard, and makes a likeable, compelling hero. He’s one man fighting against the system to do the right thing, but it’s an engaging story that pulls viewers in and makes some of the film’s cornier flag-waving moments a little easier to swallow.
John Goodman and Alan Arkin provide comic relief as the Hollywood makeup artist and producer he enlists to help him pull off his fake movie. They’re funny and they comment on the ludicrous nature of Hollywood without ever stopping to wink at the audience.
Affleck’s big Iranian set pieces come off as a bit stagey. The crowd riots, in particular, feel overly orchestrated as though you could practically hear the army of technicians directing extras just off screen.
Affleck has taken his time to learn his craft and build on the experiences and lessons he’s learned from one movie to another. This is a solid effort with more wit than you’d expect. I have to hand it to him for making the prospect of a Ben Affleck movie something I’d actually want to see — something that once seemed as improbable as a CIA operation to spring Americans from Iran by having them pose as a movie crew.