Argo

Released on October 12, 2012 0 comments

Even though our frontal lobe screams for us to take a run at pudgy Kevin James and his latest offering of stupidity, we’ll instead take the higher road with Ben Affleck.

We couldn’t begin to tell you why he’s taken so much heat over the years, as his failures don’t begin to make the kind of dent Seth Rogin and the rest of the current A-List fops have foisted on us. In fact, like Clooney, Gosling, Damon, Pitt and the rest of the real boys, Affleck has progressed as one would hope, from giggling teenage-bully in “Dazed And Confused,” to the dude who became a serious filmmaker. Without question, there’s a backlash these days against guy’s guys, both within the film business and in general. So a good deal of the negativity directed at Affleck can be traced to that, along with his relationship (years ago) with Jennifer Lopez, as well as horrible misfires like “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl.” There’s also his tendency in interviews to exude breathless enthusiasm and rush his sentences, as if wary that a 24 second shot clock will run out before he gets his point across.

All that aside, he’s more than redeemed himself over the past several years, doing the rehab thang and settling down with his wife, (A much more worthy Jennifer by the name of Garner) and their children.

He’s also directed a pair of extremely watchable movies.

“Gone, Baby, Gone,” was by no means perfect, and Affleck took inevitable shots for casting brother Casey in the lead, as if he’s the first in this silly town to push the nepotism plunger. GBG was a compelling and dark piece of business, well- paced and strongly cast. (Brother Casey included.) It was far better than the other Beantown tale that came out around the same time, the underwhelming “Mystic River,” which got the bulk of attention strictly due to the rep of Clint Eastwood.

(Mystic River was slow and almost inept, giving away the identity of the killer in the first ten minutes.)

He followed GBG with the robbery caper “The Town,” which was even better, despite its final, Butch Cassidy-esque apocalyptic shootout under Fenway Park. Affleck has molded his directional groove around snake-bitten characters trying to escape the desolation and predictability of where they grew up. Much like the man himself, Affleck’s subjects work against a constant state of unreachable ambition, fully aware they are stuck in neutral, but brave enough to try and make their move anyway. Not surprisingly, such strivers are surrounded by family and friends who resist change, opting to stay tethered within confined regions of comfort and reliability, however lifeless and soul-destroying those might be. Both films were centered on his home turf of Boston, so he was able to take advantage of his ingrained appreciation of locational shorthand.

After two such ambitious efforts, one might expect him to take a breather with an easy payday, a Rom-com perhaps. Instead, Affleck is taking what might be his biggest leap yet.

“Argo” is the story of a CIA Op who in the late 70’s ventures to Tehran in an attempt to rescue a group of hostages caught up in the Iranian Revolution. Putting aside the clothes and snicker-inducing haircut, we have no reason to think this one won’t be worth the time. As with “The Town,” he’s once again directing himself, something that can be tricky in the wrong hands, though his track record has earned him a pass on that front.

As for what to expect, we have no idea. CIA stories have become cliché, so much so that Langley has become the hot topic for television and film, with many laying out spies as inept buffoons. Despite his de-facto affability, Affleck tends to drift within the darker side of human nature, so we anticipate a button-down, wood-panelled approach typical for what used to pass for this subject matter in superb films like “Three Days Of The Condor,” or the more recent and equally brilliant “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” In this telling, Affleck and crew hit upon a scheme to rescue the marooned Americans by posing as a B-Movie production unit, which is apparently what basically happened. “Argo” carries the dreaded stamp of “Based On Actual Events,” though it also boasts the input and Technical Direction of Tony Mendez, the former Langley Spook who Affleck’s character is based on.

The agency has had its share of misfires and bad press over the years, so maybe a mission that for once ends well isn’t such a bad thing. (Apparently, there are several funny moments early on, though by the final reel, it’s a straight-ahead thriller.)

And if anyone can put a sympathetic spin on the CIA, it’s Ben Affleck. Respect to him for always aiming high.