Argo (2012) 3 Stars
U.S. (Warner Bros) 120m Colour
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Chris Terrio
Book: Tony Mendez
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé,
It is hardly surprising that a film in which: Hollywood itself cooperates with the CIA to save a group of civilians from a volatile Middle-Eastern country, has been awarded best film at both The Oscars and The BAFTAs; in my opinion ‘Django Unchained’ is a is a far better candidate for both. 'Argo' begins credibly, with a brief, storyboard-like history lesson on the origins of tension in one of the feature’s main countries, Iran. The sequence lends towards the idea that the CIA’s involvement there – mainly the placement of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in power of the country – was a key cause of tension later on. However, after this point the film takes a more patriotic stance: an exemplar scene being the persuasion of “producer” Lester Siegel (Arkin), in which after watching scenes of anti-American Iranian demonstrations, he decides to join Tony Mendez's (Affleck) cause.
‘Argo’ is based upon the amazing true story of Mendez’s exfiltration of six American foreign office workers, who escaped the American Embassy in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. However, I found the film lends too much screen time to the planning of the fake film ‘Argo’ (their cover story for escaping Iran), and not enough to the experience of the characters in the country. I found what scenes there were regarding this to be incredibly thrilling, similarly the acting was incredibly believable. Unfortunately, the bulk of the movie avoided this and was instead filled with often slow moving, technical scenes saved only by occasional comedy moments; particularly during the Hollywood phase of the film. Despite this, ‘Argo’ does give a powerful look into what the decision making process of the operation may have been like; improved by Ben Affleck’s masterful direction of the American leaders.
The cinematography is especially skilful, combining modern camerawork with more historical, grainy film. Yet this leads me to believe that ‘Argo’ is better suited to the documentary genre - interviews with surviving subjects and the full, original story would interest me more, personally. Furthermore, it would relieve us of the "deeply troubling portrayal of the Iranian people” which Canadian critic Jian Ghomeshi claims many others have failed to recognise. This along with the slow pace was one of my main problems with the film: Iran itself is arguably an accurate depiction, but many members of the population – military police and civilians - are depicted as animalistic, unreasonable, stupid and often evil, in a way similar to that of the black people in the racist ‘The Birth of A Nation’; which, unlike ‘Argo’, was heavily criticised for this.
Something I give great credit to the film for is its ability to build tension towards its climax: that by the end a
large portion of the audience I witnessed, including my mum, were showing physical signs of stress. I was deeply disappointed, yet understanding, to find later that most of the tense scenes did not actually occur and that the film was littered with historical inaccuracies; which again made me feel a documentary would be more appropriate. However, I did enjoy the tension and nobody is forcing the writers to stick to the facts – so I am content.
To conclude, I don’t think ‘Argo’ is fully ‘Best Picture’ standard, but I understand why it won. Whilst I would have preferred a little more focus on the Iranian hostages’ experiences, I was happy to watch the comedy of the Hollywood scenes contentedly moving on – but do not expect to be entirely satisfied with the political stance taken by ‘Argo’. I praise Ben Affleck’s direction, the acting, and the hair and makeup team for being able to recreate a brilliant array of 70s moustaches and hairstyles; and for those reasons alone I would urge people to go and see the film before it leaves cinemas. However, ensure that this is after you have been to see Tarantino’s latest ode to the ‘Spaghetti Western’ – ‘Django Unchained’ – which is a true, best picture, five star, masterpiece.