Still, Argo’s charm comes from Affleck’s willingness to flirt with cinematic disaster before pulling back just in time. The movie’s various strands—political turmoil, human lives, Hollywood banter, Ben Affleck’s abs—never crowd one another out. Affleck hits several emotional notes, and while he lingers on none, he plays each one well.
The film’s best scene might also be its most risky. By turns, Tony Mendez (Affleck) strolls and paces around his (fake) movie script-reading party, glad-handing guests and maintaining the evening’s schedule. The CIA agent is a practiced professional, clearly, but he can’t hide a subtle nervousness. He accepts a cocktail from a server, sips robotically, then thinking better, places the glass on a nearby bar and strides off. Meanwhile, the camera won’t sit still, gliding from room to room, cutting more and more rapidly. We laugh (uneasily) as John Goodman (infectious, gregarious) delivers a line from the silly sci-fi script, then—whisk!—we become unwilling viewers to another rehearsal: this time practicing the execution of American hostages in Iran.
It’s extremely uncomfortable but entirely appropriate. Affleck, both as a director and actor, has captured the absurdity of the scene without sacrificing the gravity of his mission. Films often ask us to leave behind daily complexity in favor of a pure emotional expression, whether that’s horror, outright comedy, anxiety, sadness, or whimsy. Argo dares to present all of these at once, and most surprising of all, it works.