Posted November 15, 2012 by William Dunmyer in Drama

Argo: Solid But Simple Political Thriller

“Argo” is directed and edited so well and is about such serious subject matter that I fear people are going to over-estimate its merit. It’s a very effective but rather shallow political thriller based on a true story about the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-80.

Director Ben Affleck is becoming a major Hollywood director. I am delighted to see his success. But he has been thinning out his projects, giving them more action-movie tautness but less depth. And (surprise!) as he gets more superficial as a filmmaker, he gets more popular as a filmmaker.

The first film he directed, “Gone Baby Gone,” was on my Top 10 list of 2007. It’s a must-see. It had depth and complexity. His second film, “The Town,” had less depth but was tighter. “Argo,” his third, is the tightest of them all, demonstrating admirable focus in every scene. Every shot knows exactly what it wants to do and gets right to it. The audience is on the edge of its seat at every moment, furthermore, due to superb editing.

However, “Argo” is the most superficial of Affleck’s three films. I don’t think any viewer would say they got to know the characters in the film. “Argo” has very minimal characterization. The audience is meant to bite its fingernails, wondering if the characters are going to make it out of Iran alive. The audience is not meant to ponder anything significant about life or people. “Argo” is melodrama, not drama — but it’s one of the best melodramas you will see all year. I suspect it will be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, with Affleck earning a Best Director nomination as well.

“Argo” does have a political viewpoint, presenting the rage of the Iranian people as legitimate. Rarely do Americans try to see world events from the perspective of other nations. This is especially rare when it comes to the Middle East. Affleck’s accounting of the Hostage Crisis is impressively two-sided.

The film also casts new light on President Jimmy Carter’s performance during the crisis. Carter even gives a short voice-over at the tail end of the film, expressing pride that his Administration eventually got every single hostage out safe and sound. Furthermore, he says, this was done peacefully and the integrity of the United States was protected.

But this is a slight veneer on the project. What one ponders through 99% of the film is: Are they going to make it?! Good old-fashioned action-movie melodrama put together expertly. It’s nice to see Ben Affleck turning into a good movie-maker. But he could be a major artist. He seems to have decided not to move in that direction, at least not for the time being. I hope he at some point becomes artistically ambitious again. He’s got more talent than I think he even realizes, capable of a lot more than just popularity with the masses.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.