Directed by Ben Affleck, US, 2012
With its recent win at the Golden Globes as motivation, I saw Argo this past weekend. I had originally thought that I would watch the movie later on HBO or Amazon. I’m glad that I didn’t wait that long – this is a film that is worth your $8.
There is a high bar of difficulty when re-telling a true story. After all, the audience already knows the outcome most of the time. Although Argo isn’t based on a particularly well known story, movie critics, usually the guardians of spoiler protection, have no qualms telling the prospective audience about the movie’s outcome. After all, you should have known ahead of time, right?
In any event it should be noted that Argo masterfully overcomes this difficulty by providing the audience with a fast paced, well constructed thriller. I am always skeptical about directors who act in their own movies, although some (Welles, Chaplin, Olivier), have been exceptional at both acting and directing. In this case, Ben Affleck, who was written off as washed up in Hollywood less than a decade ago, constructs the film beautifully by emotionally investing the audience in the characters and their situation. He also does a fantastic job in the lead role of the picture, showing maturing acting skills.
The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, with every actor succeeding at what their roles were supposed to accomplish. That, I think, is another feather in Affleck’s hat for this film, since managing actors may be one of the most overlooked aspects of directing.
It should be noted that Argo presents only a sliver of the story of the Iranian Revolution, its motivations, and its impact. While the introduction of Argo (a storyboard montage that appears to pay homage to Kevin Smith, who provided Affleck’s first break in show-business) touches on the historical backstory, that is not the purpose or focus of Affleck’s film. That’s not to say that Argo lacks intellectual heft. While it is not overly epic, it does demonstrate the power of the Hollywood myth, the consequences of intelligence failures, and the problem of institutional inertia.
Anyone looking for a film that tells the story through the Iranian perspective or details the hostage crisis should look elsewhere, as Argo is neither of these things. Instead, it is a well constructed, thoughtful, and entertaining thriller about a small part of a large event.
You might like Argo if: you enjoy well constructed, thoughtful, and entertaining thrillers.
You might not like Argo if: you insist that every historical film dwell on the historically over-story or reject the American point of view of those stories as played out.
(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe