The once whipping boy, Ben Affleck rises to become the accomplished director
Given his two previous directorial efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, having earned such massive praise and even award recognition, it’s therefore incredible to think that Ben Affleck, once the whipping boy and victim of ridicule in the film industry, has become the accomplished director he is. In his latest spying slash political thriller, he’s able to dip into even more serious and heavy subjects that would continue his winning streak of success behind the camera. Based on a true story, CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Affleck himself) attempts to oversee the safe return of six U.S. embassy workers held up in the Iranian capital of Tehran. When all diplomatic ideas fail, he insists on disguising himself and the team as movie makers, on a trip to film a sci-fi epic, in the hope of making the perfect escape plan.
With the film itself having on one hand the heavy weight of its serious story, dealing with unrest and ruthless forces, and then having the tongue in cheek unthinkably bizarre notion that location scouting for a new movie is indeed a plan for escape, it would be hard to balance the two. But very cleverly, it plays the charm of the old school movie making aspect along with the seriousness of the story. There is that danger that the nods to Hollywood’s past would overshadow what’s really at the heart of the subject matter, but Affleck perfectly finds that balance to his credit.
It’s also pleasing to see just the general setting and atmosphere is paid closely as it is, you very much get the sense this is a grounded 70’s thriller, with the dress sense; the cars; the phones, even just the haircuts alone all adding to that recent historical feel. Just as recently Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy brilliantly dived us into a feeling of coffee stains and tweed jackets, Affleck’s direction makes it inescapable for you to even consider the film itself was made in present day – all to his testament and visual believability. But the overwhelming sense of tension and a true sense of edge of your seat viewing is the real genius of the film.
With a clear enough linear narrative, the final act is a white knuckle ride in showcasing tension at its highest. Resembling in some ways the conclusion to The Last King Of Scotland, in the sense of our characters not being out of danger until their absolutely clear, and having to use their cultural knowledge to avoid capture from an unruly regime; showcasing their threat to murder at will. Of course, you also have the elements of bureaucratic backfire, like in every political thriller, in which the overseeing hand of power insists on things simply can’t be done, ramming home that sense of the masterplan being a suicide mission, and effectively cranking up the tension some more.
Affleck is terrific in front of the camera as well as behind. Having to strip away his identity in order to gain the trust of the very people he’s helping. He never lets up in thinking he’s part of a bad idea, pushing and pulling his employment power like a suited soldier insisting to see out his personal mission of leaving no one behind. Bryan Cranston is great too as the desk jockey back at base, having this incredible knack of being in control of his actions even when he’s stuck between the conformity’s of law and the overwhelming dilemma at hand.
It’s also a piece that could be viewed in many different ways whether it be allegorical to the politics of today, or how believing in a plan will indeed pay off; even how the magic of cinema itself can capture the imagination of anyone at dark times. We do get a fantastic sequence between Hollywood producers reading out the fake script, and a civilian in Tehran preaching to her enemies about what her people intended to do to bring order to her world, and the two situations cross-cut beautifully which was a real highlight.
It knows the heart of its story very well and doesn’t deviate off it whatsoever. Affleck has yet another success on his hands, to which he must take all credit! He demonstrates to a modern-day audience that even the truest of human stories can be a tense white knuckle ride to the end.