So I’ve come to this year’s ‘Best Picture’ winner, Argo, a bit sooner than I did last year’s (The Artist) so there is still a considerable amount of awards baggage in my mind as I sit down to watch it, so I’ll deal with that first.
Whether it’s a truly outstanding film or not it is clear very early on that, if the plot has the right outcome, (which, as a true story, anyone watching from the AMPAS would have known) then the film’s real heroes would not be Canada or the CIA but the overarching entity most easily described, and here directly referenced, as ‘Hollywood’.
So from the outset, it’s pretty clear that Argo winning awards from American film bodies is, at least partially, nepotism.
That said, while Argo may not be the truly outstanding film the awards may suggest, it is certainly a very good thriller and the basis in truth really adds to that.
Going in I had no idea about the story’s outcome, which I’m glad of, as, while I had assumed what the outcome would be, not knowing really helped add to the sense of tension which was expertly created through a fantastic opening montage of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran which combines what looks like documentary footage (though recreated) and more traditionally shot footage, to create a great sequence that sets the scene for what is to come.
A nice touch within this montage is the opening titles of the film that use the Warner Brothers’ logo of the period and do give this opening sequence a real sense that we are watching is of the time which is backed up by some excellent period production design.
Away from the tension in Iran we get a few scenes setting up the plot back in the US which are much more traditional movie style too and it is a very nice trick Ben Affleck pulls from the director’s chair by having a clear definition between the two locations (America, including in the Embassy at the start, and Iran) which soon breaks down upon his character’s arrival in Tehran.
These scenes do add a little well judged comic relief as we meet the film industry characters, which includes another small character part from John Goodman, who seems to be cornering the market in these kinds of roles in award-winning films.
From there the tension expertly cranks up with some generally understated but excellent performances from all involved, which is exactly what this story needed, as it would have been very easy for it all to go over to the top and slip into a very standard action movie territory had it not had this grounding in realism.
All of this makes for a very good and enjoyable film, but it is hard to shake the idea that while very good, Argo is not an excellent film in the way that The Artist was, and I think this can be seen in ‘The Academy’s’ choice to not even nominate Affleck for Best Director while awarding the film Best Picture.
Politically the film stands in a slightly odd place as well, it seems to verge on condemning the USA (and Britain’s) involvement with Middle East politics over the last 60 years but doesn’t quite have the conviction to come down on either side before painting the Iranian people as being, largely, a very one-dimensional group of extremist stereotypes.
The other problem I had with the film comes from the words ‘Based on true events’ as, much like in A Liar’s Autobiography, it was never clear how much of this story was true and, telling such an already fanciful tale, its hard to know where the line of truth ends and Hollywood artifice begins.
Also the sub-plot about Affleck’s family was largely unnecessary and, while I see this may have been included to add an extra sense of jeopardy, it didn’t add anything to the film for me and really just added some extra scenes that could have been lost with no effect to the whole.
In the end Argo is a great thriller that really did keep me enthralled throughout as I watched this group of people go through one of the most extreme situations possible (in one way at least) but I found it hard to shake the sense of Hollywood nepotism that led to it being dubbed Best Picture.