"Argo" Vs. "The Town": Charting Ben Affleck's Growth as a Director

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
November 14th, 2012

"Argo" Vs. "The Town": Charting Ben Affleck's Growth as a Director

Ben Affleck's second directorial venture, "The Town," was about a bank robber's desire for redemption and how he gets out of a life full of violence, hate, and death. "Argo," on the other hand, is the story of how a crazy CIA plan helps six American Embassy staffers escape Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.

A comparison between "Argo" and "The Town" clearly shows how Ben has grown as a director. "The Town" was a dark and moody crime drama with imperfect characters struggling with circumstances beyond their control with a bittersweet ending. "Argo," on the other hand, is a high-paced international political thriller combined with dark humor with satirical undertones.

In "Argo," Ben has chosen a plot with an ending that holds no surprises for the audience. The movie ends with the good guys escaping to safety and the bad guys ending up embarrassed. This is evident even before the movie starts. Making sure that the audience enjoyed a taut and gripping journey from beginning to the end was a daunting task but Ben rose to the challenge and delivered a winner.

"Argo" is all about six US Embassy staff members who hole up in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). CIA specialist Toney Mendez (Affleck) is tasked with the responsibility of rescuing the six staffers without putting other hostages under risk. How Tony comes up with a plan straight out of a B-grade Hollywood movie and how he successfully pulls off the near impossible task forms the rest of the movie.

Unlike "The Town," Ben has preferred to underplay his character and has maintained focus on the six hostages, the Canadian diplomat, and the Hollywood professionals who help Tony with the implementation of the plan. Affleck's decision to let other actors steal the limelight and his brilliant use of humorous and darkly comic interludes shows how he has matured as a director.

Instead of being apologetic about the sheer ridiculousness of the plan, the movie prefers to showcase the same by relying on modest comedy throughout. This is one of the rare movies where even an ordinary individual can understand how a good plot can be transformed into a great movie in the hands of a director who is ready to step off the tried and tested routine.

While critics hailed "The Town" as a good movie when it was released, they will now find it difficult to praise the movie without pointing out how "Argo" is a much better movie.

"The Town" was a Boston crime drama about Doug's (Ben Affleck) life as a criminal, his desire to escape it all, and the price he pays to realize his ultimate goal. Unlike his first directorial release, it was easier to identify the good and bad guys except for Doug. The movie opens with Doug and three other bank robbers successfully looting a bank. Doug subsequently befriends Claire Kessey (Rebecca Hall), who had been taken hostage during the robbery. As they fall in love, he discovers that she could be the one to send him to prison. FBI Special Agent Frawley interrogates the gang after a botched robbery. He then proceeds to tap Claire's phone in a desperate attempt to find more clues about the gang.

Claire learns that Doug is a criminal and agrees to work with Frawley. Doug's boss Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite) reveals a secret about Doug's mother and forces him to participate in another bank robbery. Doug gives in after fellow gang member Jem (Jeremy Renner) threatens to kill Claire.

After one of the best on-screen shootouts in recent times, the movie ends with Doug escaping to Florida after killing Fergie. Claire remains behind and is asked by Doug to put his stolen money to good use.

As compared to the dreary and slightly pointless plot in "The Town," Ben's latest release holds appeal for a wider section of the audience. While "The Town" had a stronger opening and enjoyed higher collections than "Argo" in the domestic weekend, the latest release has done a much better job in sustaining audience interest in the much better than Affleck's earlier release. In four weeks, "Argo" has earned close to 85 percent of what "The Town" earned in sixteen weeks.

Some critics have not just tipped "Argo" for the Oscars but have actually pronounced that the race has ended with the release of this movie. While "The Town" was praised by critics, it never was considered by critics of being worthy of an Oscar award. If Affleck wins the award, he may well reboot his acting career after having discovered the best director in the industry.