Sunday, 4 November 2012

Argo



Ben Affleck continues to grow on me as an actor and a director, though I still think he is much better at the latter. In Argo, Affleck stars and directs a film about the rescue of six American hostages in Iran in 1980 (Affleck plays the CIA agent who masterminds the rescue). Despite the fact that we know how it ends, Affleck plays this story for suspense and laughs. Amazingly enough, they both work, making this a very watchable true story.

To play the six hostages, Affleck seems to have gone for lookalikes to the actual hostages. The result is satisfactory but none of those actors stand out and Affleck succeeds only because he doesn’t stand out as unsatisfactory. Bryan Cranston and Victor Garber do well in supporting roles, but the real film-stealers are Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who are often hilarious as a film producer and make-up man who help provide the cover story that the hostages need to leave Iran (namely that they are a film crew checking Tehran out for locations for the space opera, Argo). 

Argo features handheld grainy camera work that doesn’t impress but at least it doesn’t seriously distract (in other words, given the nature of the film, it works well enough). The greatest strength of the film is Chris Terrio’s expertly-crafted suspenseful screenplay, which begins perfectly by making it clear that the U.S. really messed things up in Iran by supporting the oppressive Shah and then giving him a safe haven after the Iranian revolution in 1979. So the U.S. was partly responsible for creating the perfect environment for a hostage situation.

Unfortunately, it is not so clear that the rest of the film sustains this politically wise beginning. By the end, when Iranian soldiers are desperately trying to catch the hostages, there has been far too much emphasis on the nasty Iranians. At a time when there is so much tension between the U.S. and Iran, I am left wondering whether Argo poured oil or water on the flames of that tension. As a result, I cannot consider giving Argo more than ***+. My mug is up but I’m not sure if the contents will sit well in my stomach.

2 comments:

  1. Watchable, light entertainment but an embarrassment as best picture. Very hard to forgive the cheesy runway scene and all the false, clichèd suspense. On top of that, it is hard to forgive the depiction of Canada being allowed to falsely take credit so that American hostages wouldn't be harmed (or that the Brits and Kiwis were falsely maligned). If you're going to base something on a true story, you can't mess up major details. A reluctant *** from me.

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  2. Ah yes, the runway scene. I also loved the opening that pointed out our involvement in the situation and then hated how the movie didn't stick with that attitude and ended up on the complete other side. I also found Affleck's story (with his estranged wife) was incredibly unnecessary. I feel like some of this film's problems likely stem from the fact that it's based on Mendez's memoir instead of historical fact but that's still no excuse for a politically problematic film. Definitely an embarrassment as best picture.

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