Affleck’s political thriller falls flat

By Trevor Ballanger

“Argo,” the latest directorial effort from Ben Affleck, fails to engage its own exciting subject matter. Taking very few risks, Affleck has molded a predictable, clichéd rendering of a fascinating piece of American history. The incredible source material is handled with little tact, and the resulting film is mired in its own conventionality.

Chronicling a true story from the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, “Argo” revolves around the CIA’s attempt to save six American diplomats from capture. The six have escaped from an American embassy under siege and are hiding at the house of a Canadian ambassador. Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who designs a stranger-than-fiction plan to grant them safe passage back to the States. Posing as a Canadian film producer, Mendez conscripts the hiding Americans into a fictional film crew, hoping they can fool the Iranian government long enough to board a plane home.

“Argo’s” script is based on “The Great Escape,” a 2007 Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman that detailed the incident in its entirety. The film does little to expand on the ground cultivated by the article. As it stands, “Argo” is a drab re-telling of the events as they unfolded—something Bearman’s account already accomplished. Without adding any new dynamic to the story, the film feels like a movie we’ve seen before.

Affleck seizes on an exciting piece of American history to structure his film around but fills the landscape with one-dimensional characters. While it boasts a star-studded cast-—Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman-—the film’s script is filled with clichéd dialogue, a hollow sense of character and easy tag lines. The result is a picture filled with mild, middling performances and

unimaginative filmmaking.

No adequate time is given to develop any of the characters, and “Argo” feels unfocused as a result. The characters exist as re-hashed types rather than as multi-faceted human beings.

Affleck’s character typifies such blandness. Mendez functions mainly to drive the action. There’s a brief attempt at adding emotional depth to Mendez when the film references his tumultuous family situation. His wife and son live across the country as a result of a separation. Little screen time is given to this subplot, and when it’s dealt with, it feels contrived.

The film’s hackneyed dialogue is a failed attempt at capturing the crispness of Aaron Sorkin’s banter. Characters speak rapidly, but the script lacks Sorkin’s bite. In one scene, Affleck compares CIA covert operations to abortions—an off-kilter joke that offends more than

evokes laughter.

“Argo’s” intent to outline the actual events down to the final detail hampers any dramatic or thematic revelation. It feels as though Affleck is cramming information into the narrative, which constantly fails to juggle the drastically different tonal elements within the film. The frenetic pace of the plot is its main concern, and even that

lags intermittently.

Affleck struggles directorially with “Argo,” as he does little to craft a film that reflects or comments on anything. Instead, he opts for a predictable sentimentality, which ultimately makes the film an unadventurous rendering of a potentially

thrilling story.

With little to say, the film is resigned to its own uninspired narrative. Visually, thematically and technically, “Argo” is going through the motions.