Argo is a straightforward and near-flawless thriller that possesses the diligent focus of perpetual narrative movement. Appealing enough for the intellect and a damn fine example of visceral filmmaking, Argo has the passion and endurance to instill a sense of immediacy and intimacy. Most of all, the film possesses a retro aura. It functions somewhat as a throwback, something that Alan J. Pakula or Sidney Pollack would embark upon in the 70s. Ben Affleck, in this third effort following 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s The Town, proves to be a director with the keen ability to aim purely for the gut. He knows how to create a tense situation based on building characters and establishing a clear plot. By doing this, his action sequences carry genuine human weight. Perhaps most prevalent throughout his picture is the inherit likability of his characters, as flawed as everyone in the narrative may be, there’s a persuasive argument to made in Argo that is not overtly addressed: the need for people to work together regardless of their background.
The most surprising aspect of Argo going in is its separated two-prong delivery of its material. The picture begins with somber reserve as it contends with political strife and social upheaval while various government agencies attempt to plan a rescue mission for stranded diplomats. The picture develops this aspect of its narrative with urgency, but abandons this structure in its second act for a more whimsical tale of Hollywood excess and ironic cinematic reverence. This aspect is then abandoned for a more action-oriented conclusion that ties closely to its original political narrative arc. Normally, these dynamic shifts in narrative would be problematic from virtually every vantage point. But Affleck, along Chris Terrio’s screenplay and William Goldenberg’s crisp editing, handles the tonal shifts with ease. The fact that Affleck is capable of keeping his political and Hollywood components in play while maintaining his rigid visceral appeal far exceeds anything he showed in either Gone Baby Gone or The Town – traditionally speaking, Argo is immaculately crafted.
I can understand criticisms of Affleck downplaying the social significance of the events on display. Similarly, there are certain ethnocentric connotations to some of the screenplay that, unfortunately, is a byproduct of telling the narrative from a singular Western perspective. But my worldview on the situation is limited – not being a product of the era, the picture makes no attempt to present its material for historical reference, but rather very openly acknowledges and embraces the story’s action elements. The fact that the picture makes its intent clear and therein embraces its narrative for its emotional capacity as opposed to its historical value is a creative decision that works wonderfully. Simply put, Argo is a film to be seen for its impeccable cinematic value as opposed to its historical probing.