Michael Mayer on Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’

Eye on the Oscars: The Director Preview

With “Argo,” Affleck has demonstrated that his first two features, also excellent, were no flukes — the guy is a fantastic film director. Extravagantly entertaining where it might have been a history lesson, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful when we know the outcome, shot to look like a ’70s film when audiences have all but forgotten that golden age of American film: “Argo” shouldn’t work! And yet, Affleck (also a co-screenwriter as well as one of its stars) gives us easily one of the best films of the year. Affleck gets wonderful, sly, natural performances from his cast, including a truly winning, subtle and committed Ben Affleck as the man with the plan at the center of the story. (Maybe nobody directs him as well as he directs himself.) I appreciated the way he delivers background information on the U.S./Iran policies leading up to the events of the film so that when the story kicks in we can really go for the ride. And what a ride he delivers! It really does look and feel like one of the classic political thrillers from the ’70s, but with a fresh contemporary sensibility that demands attention. And best of all, the big conceit of the film allows for a surprise final twist: “Argo” is every bit as much a love letter to the cinema as it is an account of a moment in our troubled history in which imagination, courage and, yes, the movies, would save the day.

Michael Mayer, a Tony winner for “Spring Awakening,” makes his Met Opera debut in January with a new production of “Rigoletto.”

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