Sunday, October 14
Directed by Ben Affleck
From Warner Bros.
This is a good movie but it is not a great one and it certainly doesn't warrant the hoopla that seems to be swirling around it. This is the third directorial effort of Affleck and his first away from his Boston-area neighborhoods. I thought The Town was superb and Gone Baby Gone was a very good directorial debut. When his films come out, there does seem to be an early momentum. He makes the rounds of all the early morning and late night TV shows, everyone starts yammering and then the film quietly finds its place with all the other films in the local cinemaplex. I'm guessing this one will be no different.
If you can't tell from the countless previews, the story surrounds the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis when militants overtook the U.S. Embassy and 52 Americans were kept as hostages for 444 days. At the same time six Americans managed to allude capture by fleeing to the home of the Canadian ambassador.
Enter into the fray one Tony Mendez (Affleck), a CIA exfiltration specialist, who hatches a plan to fly to Iran as a producer of a phony science fiction movie. He will get the hostages to assume identities of various members of the film crew and if all goes well, they will all simply fly out of Tehran Airport aboard Swiss Air.
The first part, without Affleck, establishes the fighting and how the embassy was overtaken and the six people got away. It was tense and exciting and interesting to note how a primary task was to destroy all documents. We get more details on the rebels than we do on the evening news which makes the threat and the danger all the more compelling. Direction and editing in these scenes was crisp and concise and in your face.
When the action switches to the United States and Affleck's character and the CIA and other government people, I thought film suffered while we established who these people are and the actions they are looking to take. It was necessary, of course, to do this but some of the steam was lost. There was a stab at some comedy via Goodman and Arkin and a little bit about Mendez's personal life.
In being introduced to Affleck's character and going through the rest of the film, I thought he was on quaaludes. Was this how the real Mendez acted... so lethargic, unemotional? He might have worked up more charge when he took finals in college. He maintained the same low-key (I almost prefer the word dull) manner whether he was speaking with his son or in a crucial meeting or to the bad guys or the initially frisky hostages. Did directing and acting become too weighty for Affleck? Well, I give him an A on the directing and a C- on the acting.
In the final segment, looking over and around Affleck, the excitement returns for the rescue and it is unquestionably the best part of the film. There could be nail-biting, pants wetting, heart-pounding reactions getting these people through the airport and onto the plane. It was a wonderful way to end a film and all those little updates on the real people one reads while the credits spill out were appreciated.
The best acting came from Bryan Cranston as a CIA chieftain. John Goodman certainly adds a flare to any role he undertakes.
My favorite cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto moved his cameras with a steady ease throughout creating a visceral excitement that is impossible not to notice. I commend Affleck the director on the look of the film, as well. It felt authentic, so up close and personal. A bit of that grainy look moved the film into that documentary or news look. It quite felt like being there.
Affleck has said that no one would believe this story had it not been real and I certainly concur. I had to remind myself of that a couple of times as well. It was nice to learn of a true event that had been kept a secret for almost 20 years until President Clinton declassified it. I do love my true stories.
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