Lauren: In a time of war, there is nothing quite like propagandistic films to sway us in our feelings towards a certain group of people. Seriously, after the first 10 minutes of this film you will hate Iran. Wait… That’s not the point of this movie? Oh, my bad.
Don’t worry, there is at least one good Iranian mixed into the film among all of the American hostages. Based on the storyboard-like animations that open Argo, you’d expect to be watching a comic based action film or animated feature, but this true story actually follows the Iran hostage crisis that started in November 1979. This is the backdrop, but the film focuses on the CIA operative whose job it is to bring 6 Americans who escaped the embassy and are hiding out at the Canadian ambassador’s house. That’s right hostages, you get the comfy backburner as an afterthought on this one.
Zac: You might think all the Iranians are awful and loud screaming Muslims after that opening scene of the film, but that is because the sequence is so well done. Sadly, everything is downhill from there as the film is never able to come close to its powerful opening.
Ben Affleck’s work as a director previous to this has been pretty great by my estimations seeing as I love Gone Baby Gone and really enjoyed The Town as well; Argo feels like a lesser work throughout. They do a fine job of recreating the period from a production stand point, but the film seems to get lost in how “cool” it is that Hollywood helped save these refugees that it forgets to let us care about those that are in danger.
Over the course of this two-hour plus film, the only thing I know about the refugees is that they are scared and terrible doing dishes. How am I supposed to feel tense or root for these people to get out if I don’t even care about them in the slightest? When you do a “based on true events” film like this you can’t bank on the audience sympathizing with your characters just because they are real, the filmmaker still has to earn our compassion. Ben Affleck also turns in possibly his weakest performance since his resurgence in Hollywoodland, making Tony Mendez a cold and lifeless character that you can’t connect with at any level. This might be true to the real life counterpart’s actual persona, but if your lead has no charisma, make sure somebody else does; yes Bryan Cranston is great but his appearances are fleeting.
Lauren: I don’t know if I really see where you’re coming from against Affleck in this role, but maybe that was just because his hair makes him look adorable in an “awe, look at the trends of the past generations” sort of way. That and he was a breath of fresh air from the screaming Iranians and antagonistic refugees who feel the need to fight against this plan like they have a choice in the matter. Do they not realize that if they don’t go along with what they’re given they’re just going to be left in the country to die? With this and maybe one other scene to show that one of the refugees blames himself for his wife’s involvement in this danger, I can agree that it isn’t the easiest to care about these characters no matter what danger they’re in. After all, there are many more hostages nearby with guns constantly to their heads, aka in real danger, pulling focus from those we are supposed to be caring about. The end credits eventually point out that these men and women were in that situation for 444 days, so excuse me for not feeling quite as bad for those living the posh life in the home of a Canadian.
Cranston is definitely the best part as he runs around getting stuff done, and everyone else is left with hints of comedic dialog to keep this from being a one note push towards attempted suspense and danger. I don’t seem to have the same problems with the inclusion of the importance of Hollywood considering there isn’t much story without it, though when they started beating the dead horse with their play on the film’s title I was ready to move on from these sets, even if they did include old cylon costumes from the original Battlestar Galactica TV series.
Zac: Most people are going to walk away loving Alan Arkin and John Goodman in this film, but I found the aforementioned joke and most of their humor rather tiring. The government behind-the-scenes moments were by far the most entertaining elements to me and they were sadly the smallest portion of the film. That is where all the great character actors are that Affleck has assembled and it seems like a giant waste of them in that they are barely used. And for how incredible and difficult this whole plot must have been to pull off in real life the film makes it seem quite easy. The biggest hiccup along the way was the inability of a couple of old guys to answer a phone call.
Lauren: Very true, but you should have heard the woman next to me talking to the screen during this moment, cheering them on. People are going to eat it up, and I will admit being slightly jealous of her suspension of belief. It was like she didn’t know what was going to happen.
Even if I can’t say that I was as riveted by the story of Argo as she was as it moved towards and through its climax, I still might have gotten wrapped up in the “GO AMERICA!” sentimentality while watching. I just don’t know if that will carry the film far enough in my mind to make it deserving of the awards people are already putting it in the running for, let alone worthy of repeat viewings. But what do I know?
Zac: Argo was a big letdown for me and I am as disappointed “The Affleck” has let me down as a director. He had all the pieces there but the movie never gels. I felt none of the tension, compassion, or thrills the film was going for and was actively annoyed with the Hollywood plotline. The production is solid but talent this good is even more heartbreaking when it is wasted.