September 28, 2016

Ben Affleck’s thrilling “Argo” a major step for maturing filmmaker – TORONTO


By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: I can’t remember a more complete career renaissance than the one Ben Affleck’s currently enjoying.

Not that long ago, the handsome Boston actor – a one-time Oscar winner for co-screenwriting “Good Will Hunting” – was in Hollywood “prison,” condemned for poor choices ranging from “Gigli” to “Jersey Girl” and the aptly titled “Paycheck.” But Affleck took a temporary vacation, reset his career from behind the lens, and established himself as a formidable director with the one-two punch of “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.”

“Argo,” his latest, takes this storytelling career to the next level.

Affleck has crafted an airtight heist movie, only the loot being boosted isn’t cash, diamonds or jewels. It’s six human lives.

“Argo” also sees the director responding to the criticism that he’s only capable of making riveting “Southie” thrillers. With “Argo,” Affleck goes global, yet never sacrifices his tensions by expanding his canvas. The film is based on a previously classified story of a daring hostage extraction during the extended Iran hostage situation of 1979. Tony Mendez (Affleck) has a plan that requires Hollywood and D.C. to collaborate on the creation of a bogus sci-fi movie, of which the detained hostages will pretend to be part of the crew.

Thanks to a subtle, internal time clock, Affleck must keep his pieces constantly moving through “Argo,” and it’s in this instance that we realize what a confident director he has become. There’s barely an ounce of fat on this rapidly-dancing thriller, which is alternately funny, risky and consistently terrifying. Once again, Affleck proves he has a fantastic eye or casting. Supporting roles scattered throughout “Argo” are occupied by pros, from Alan Arkin and John Goodman as the movie-business moguls who help stitch the fictional “Argo” together, to Bryan Cranston as Affleck’s man in the C.I.A., trying to pull enough strings to get these hostages to safety.

After building awards buzz at Telluride, Warner Bros. programmed “Argo” into TIFF, where it played like gangbusters to a packed Roy Thomson Hall for a well-received Gala screening. The film opens in October, and should enjoy a favorable run through the Oscar marathon as the industry embraces the entertainment angle to this so-strange-it’s-true story that is masterfully crafted by one of our most talented actor-directors.

Read more of our exclusive Toronto coverage:
Rian Johnson’s “Looper” reviewed
“Amour” amazes, “Rust & Bone” ultimately delivers
TIFF: The Day Before the Madness

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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