By Armond White
At this point in Ben Affleck’s directing career, I’d rather have him back simply as an actor (provided he’s well directed). Affleck the auteur chooses worst material than Affleck the actor. And he lacks the skill and seriousness to make the stories believable.
Argo, Affleck’s newest job, is another of those based on a true story gimmicks: the CIA’s 1980 plan to rescue six Americans hiding in Teheran, a background event to the Iranian hostage crisis. Exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (played affectlessly by Affleck) concocts a plan involving Hollywood pros to rescue the Americans by pretending to scout locations in Iran for a sci-fi movie titled “Argo.”
Affleck directs the story like a TV show–not a good one like Irvin Kershner’s 1977 TV-movie Raid on Entebbe but with no sense of place, suspenseful timing or feel for character that distinguishes a cinematic vision. (Zhang Yimou’s splendid Flowers of War is this year’s best rescue movie.) Argo’s script by first-timer Chris Terrio features TV brashness, full of sub-par Aaron Sorkinisms: “It’s standing room only for beheadings in the square” and “Exfiltrations are like abortions. You don’t wanna need one but when you do you don’t want to do it yourself.” George Clooney could blurt all this snark. Indeed, Clooney co-produced this film with Affleck which explains its rickety drama and flimsy comedy.
Miscalculated as a tale of showbiz heroism, Argo lacks conviction. Its trifling mix of action and sarcasm demonstrates no respect for history. The Hollywood scenes mock industry vulgarity and venality but ignores what motivated the middle-aged bizzers (Alan Arkin and John Goodman as likely military veterans) to risk their reputations and protect others‘ lives–now bygone virtues. Affleck and Clooney are part of the elite who have never served their country and can’t fathom that kind of patriotism and so smirk at it. It’s a Joe Biden kind of movie. Ironically, Argo fakes a political story in an era when Hollywood is politically irresponsible.
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