Argo (2012), directed by Ben Affleck

I still find it a bit weird to write “directed by Ben Affleck.” I shouldn’t, I mean, the man is a director now, this is his third feature after all and he’s getting more praise behind the camera than he ever got in front of it. But I grew up in a different era, an era where Affleck starred in such movies as Daredevil and Jersey Girl. An era where he had sexual relations with Jimmy Kimmel.

He was, let’s face it, a bit of a joke. Whether it was deserved or not, the man was a punch line.

Well, now he’s a serious player in the biz (do they still call it that?) and really impressing people with his new life as Serious Movie Director. Gone Baby Gone sort of took everyone by surprise. The Town confirmed Affleck as a talent. And now Argo is in the centre of any early Oscar talk you can find.

Is the praise deserved? Yes and no, in my humble, obnoxious opinion.

First, the movie. I would have to say that Argo is the one of the most competently directed¬† movies I have seen all year. That might sound like a “garden variety” type comment, but I mean it in a good way. Affleck isn’t a flashy director, and I admire that. He is a movie-maker, and an extremely talented one.

In terms of pacing, editing, composition and pretty much any other technical or storytelling related aspect of moviemaking, Argo is excellent. It balances multiple types of movies in one, has a serious, thriller-type side, but also a fun, Hollywood looks at Hollywood side, and blends it all together seamlessly and without one ever detracting from the other.

The movie flows well. It makes sense. It never gets lost or meanders. It’s gripping to watch, is full of great, but never flashy, performances and does exactly what it sets out to do.

Now, you may be predicting this is all leading to a big “but.” I wish it wasn’t. I hate being that guy sometimes. I want to be on the Affleck bandwagon without any holding back. I really do. But I just can’t.

With Argo I have the same problem I had with Affleck’s other two films. It’s good, but I wanted more. I think Affleck is a great storyteller, but I think he’s a great surface-level storyteller. And I want more.

He’s an expert at telling what happen, who was involved, how it was important and why we should care. His films are seamless, and that’s a compliment. Those are all great things to be an expert at. It’s really refreshing to see these days. But his films still leave me feeling like something was missed.

I think it’s depth. I never feel like I really relate to or care that much about his characters. And that might not be a problem except I feel like Affleck really, really wants me to care about his characters. And I want to care about his characters. Characters are the most important part of a movie to me.

Take his character, Tony Mendez, in Argo, for instance. Tony is an expert at what he does, he’s a great CIA man and he is compelling to watch operate. But we never really get to know him. In drips and drabs we find out he is separated from his wife and has a son he doesn’t often see. He drinks too much and has obviously sacrificed his personal life for his professional one.

But that’s as far as it goes.

It feels like this macho, we don’t talk about our feelings approach to emotion. And sure, the character might just be like that, but it doesn’t mean Affleck as a director needs to take that approach too. There’s a scene where Alan Arkin’s character, Lester Siegel, talks to Mendez about their personal lives. They exchange a few short sentences about their children. Mendez tells Siegel his situation. Siegel says “kids need their mother.” And that’s it.

I don’t need a big speech or anything, and I do believe in showing over telling, but I really wanted to know more about these characters. I wanted them to seem more like people to me than a series of hard-life staples. I found it hard to relate to Mendez, or even the hostages. I felt like I had said “how’s it going?” and they said “yeah, yeah, fine, not bad. I’ve been better, but, you know?” and then we didn’t talk about it anymore.

For any other movie I would let this all slide. Maybe I’m being unfair. But I hope I’m being like that university professor who gives his best student a B mark for a paper he would have given anyone else an A. I know Affleck can do better. He has all the essentials, now he just needs to dig a little deeper. For now he gets a B. Plus.

This is perhaps an unfair review, as movies should be judge for what they are, not what they are not, but this is honestly how I feel. But listen, these are minor detractions from what is otherwise an excellent movie. Argo is one of the most riveting tales I have seen unfold on screen lately. It’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s a real movie lover’s movie.

I just wanted more.

Argo is in theatres now.