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The Past | The Previous

Argo

It is difficult to approach Argo, Ben Affleck's third film, completely free of expectation. Much talked about, in both good and bad terms, the girl and I had been intending to watch it for a while. We did so finally after it won an Oscar.

Set in the 1980s, the film retells the story of the CIA's rescue of six Americans from Iran. Having fled the embassy due to riots, the six are hiding in the house of a Canadian diplomat, but the situation cannot continue. Bought in to give his opinion on the rescue (the original plan is of bikes), Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, comes up with the idea to create a fake film, in which to give the six Americans jobs, and sneak them out of the country. With the aid of Hollywood insiders, the CIA funds a film they never intends to make, entitled Argo. Once the cover is created, Mendez then enters Iran, where within two days both he and the other six, leave. Someone will chase them down the runway, of course, which may or may not have happened in reality (it didn't), but outside this one false dramatic note, Affleck's film is a tense thriller.

The film's major flaw is an imbalance between the depiction of Hollywood and Iran. It begins at the opening of the film where comic panels are used to explain the political unrest in Iran and ends on a shot that flows across various Star Wars figures, forcing you to wonder if Boba Fett figurines were really out then, though perhaps they were. Regardless, the two don't sit well against each other in the film, even when John Goodman and Alan Arkin are introduced. The two are fine, of course, but it doesn't matter if they are or they aren't. Part of this is because the film Argo within Argo can never match the seriousness of the Iranian hostage crisis, which is where the strength of Affleck's film lies. It is not just that the film's weaker scenes take place in Hollywood, it is also that the film itself is so obviously awful that when a reading of the script is set against the hostages to emotional leverage, you cannot but feel a sense of embarrassment.

It is a genuine shame this is the case, since--outside the plane--the scenes in Iran are done well and laden with tension. Of course, all the Iranians are completely and utterly evil, much like an evil genre villain, but Affleck does a good job in bringing out the tension between the six in hiding, their fear, and the general belief that they will not escape with their own lives. It is just a shame that the science fiction element is there, though I'm not quite sure how it could have been used in the film differently, given that the costumes, designs, and so forth, are all by and large authentic to the 1980s. It may be, in fact, that my general dislike for science fiction film from that time period influences my ability to appreciate it, and for others, their ability to enjoy that may indeed be different.

Still, Argo is, by and large, a decent film. It is a film about how good Hollywood is, which explains its complete success, given that the film never really rises about being decent and watchable... yet, those last two categories are rare enough these days in Hollywood.