Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, tells the story of six Americans that avoided capture during the Iran hostage crisis of President Jimmy Carter's administration, and how they managed to escape.
In the film Affleck plays the protagonist, Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who concocts
the idea of a fake movie production for extracting the Americans out of Iran. The Canadian Embassy is clandestinely harboring the fugitives where they are trapped
until a method of extraction can be devised.
For those of us too young to remember or not up on historical events, the film begins with an incisive primer on the history of Iran, until it reaches the events of 1979.
In 2012 Argo won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.
It is categorized as a Thriller/Drama, and generally succeeds as suspenseful storytelling. In all fairness, it is difficult to tell a story engagingly when everyone knows the ending. But the film does manage to focus on the narrative details rather than the whiz-bang of an explosive situation.
However, the film is not without its problems, and there were parts that clearly
left me underwhelmed. For instance:
Character development— Why does Mendez (Affleck) appear only mildly engaged, or bored most of the time, when he is dealing with the lives of six desperate people? There is a hint of his marital problems but mostly what we see on the surface is a lot of smoking and drinking; we do not feel his angst over the planned extraction, or his turmoil over his personal life. Is he not free to express his feelings even in his own private space? Is this because he is a veteran CIA operative? Mendez (Affleck) is portrayed as lacking passion or feelings, which I doubt was the case in actuality. Why is it that Tony Mendez looks completely American without a hint of his Hispanic background? In photos of the period Mendez does look like he could be Hispanic or even Iranian, which would make the premise of daring to travel to Iran more plausible. But Affleck, on the other hand, stands out in most scenes like a sore thumb, stretching the plausibility of the situation. Poor casting?
Plausibility— Would not the six Americans in the Canadian Embassy have been agitated over the fate of the other 50+ embassy staff that were capture? They do not mention them. According to the film the six Americans in the Canadian Embassy are too busy drinking wine, having dinner, and concerned over their own safety to think about the others that have been captured.
Inconsistencies— why are some of the visually important exchanges between Americans and Iranians subtitled and others not, as in the heated bazaar argument?
A suspenseful film that does hit all these target points is The November Man starring
Pierce Brosnan. Although the The November Man is categorized as a crime thriller, in contrast to Argo's thriller/drama, it gives you much more backstory, character development, feeling for the protagonist (Brosnan/Devereaux), and his inner turmoil in the first 20 minutes than Argo does in its full two hours. Granted, this is not an equal comparison, because The November Man is not a drama, but in a film like Argo, where lead character development is key, it is one of the main problems.
The film’s pacing is a bit on the slow side and although not an issue for me it might be for many accustomed to the current fast pace of Thriller/Dramas. And no doubt Affleck could justify each one of his decisions in making the film to reinforce the narrative. I just wish that the film had taken more of that time to develop the main characters to a greater degree.
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Alan Arkin (Stand Up Guys, Little Miss Sunshine,
Mother Night) and John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Monuments Men) are outstanding in the supporting roles and show what great actors can do with supporting parts. Frankly, their acting is a huge contrast to Affleck, who also happened to be the director of Argo. As an actor, Affleck does hit his stride in other films like The Town (which he also directed), and Good Will Hunting, and perhaps that is an indication of where his heart truly lies, in gritty urban drama.
Argo is peppered at the start with a blend of actual, historical, and faux footage that creates an exciting combination for storytelling. Unfortunately the blatant inaccuracies of the film, such as having Mendez concoct the idea of escape when in reality it was the Canadians; or minimizing the role of the Canadian Ambassador,
Ken Taylor, from a major force in saving the Americans to being a polite host; or stating that the Americans were turned away from the British and New Zealand embassies (which is false), have an impact on the film and raise questions as to how many other liberties were taken with the story.
Jimmy Carter in an interview to CNN said, “. . . 90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. And with that exception, the movie is very good. But Ben Affleck's character in the film was... only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”
April 20, 2015
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