Ben Affleck is more than just a pretty face. He co-wrote the script to Good Will Hunting in the early ’90s with fellow heartthrob Matt Damon, and won the Oscar in 1998 for Best Original Screenplay. His compelling directorial debut (2007′s Gone Baby Gone) and even more impressive sophomore effort (2010′s The Town) also exceeded expectations. And now the dramatic thriller Argo, which opened to rave reviews this past weekend, has solidified Affleck’s status as a true Hollywood visionary: actor, director, and producer extraordinaire. The 2012 Oscar race has only just begun, but according to industry insiders, Argo is already a clear front-runner for Best Picture.
Based on real events, Argo chronicles the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979 and the subsequent rescue mission orchestrated by the CIA. Exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the idea to stage a fake Canadian movie production in Tehran–a sci-fi epic called “Argo”– to sneak six American hostages safely out of the country. But in order for his elaborate plan to work, he must rely on the expertise of two Hollywood honchos: legendary make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and bombastic movie producer Lester Spiegel (Alan Arkin).
Goodman and Arkin are hilarious in their roles, and Affleck is dependably heroic (if one can suspend disbelief over Affleck playing a Latino man). However, one of the most effective elements of the film has little to do with Affleck himself. Four-time Academy Award nominee Alexandre Desplat composed Argo‘s harrowing musical score, which relies on nuance instead of booming noise to create an intensely gripping atmosphere. In a press release for WaterTower Records, the soundtrack distribution branch of Warner Bros., Affleck had nothing but praise for Desplat’s work:
We needed to find a theme that we would use throughout—obviously different instrumentation and tempo, but still the same piece of music…Desplat was amazing at crafting an atypical score, incorporating uncommon instruments, many Middle Eastern in origin. It doesn’t feel too literal or cliché, but he created a sound that instantly puts you in that place.”
Affleck chose his composer well. Desplat has scored over 70 films in the past 15 years, both in his native France and in the United States, and won a Golden Globe in 2006 for The Painted Veil. His other credits include Girl with the Pearl Earring (2003), The Queen (2006), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The King’s Speech (2010), The Tree of Life (2011), and the final two Harry Potter films. Most recently, he composed the adorably eclectic score to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.
Desplat has a knack for building tension without the rise and fall of an overly aggressive orchestra. His music perfectly complements the Middle Eastern backdrop of the film, as operation “Argo” transitions from the bright lights of Hollywood to the desolate deserts of Tehran. Still, the official soundtrack lacks a certain punch that only specific selections of late ’70s music can provide. While the film does contain a few classic rock ballads–most notably, Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away”– Aerosmith’s “Dream On” (featured in the trailer below) could have added an extra sizzling charge to Argo‘s mix of retro drama and action-movie suspense.