Sunday, 24 February 2013

Argo, dir. Ben Affleck, scr. Chris Terrio, based on The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman, st. Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman

The most interesting aspect of the so-called "Canadian Caper" - the joint operation between the Canadian government and the CIA to liberate six American diplomats from Iran in 1980 - is the idea of a disposable commodity such as film-making having such an elevated importance; creating the Science Fiction epic Argo in order to provide the diplomats with 'legit' cover so they can waltz off Iranian soil on a Swiss aircraft was quite literally a matter of life and death. It's an idea that Affleck gives all too short shrift to in order to make room for the more traditional thriller elements of the film. Of course, like everything based on historical fact, the thrills have built-in dampening. The knowledge that "they did" quickly answers the "will they/won't they" question that the drama hinges upon. But the inner machinations of Hollywood and the elements concerning how a production gets off the ground, as seen through the eyes of Goodman's award-winning make-up artist John Chambers and Arkin's film producer Lester Siegel is desperately intriguing and frustratingly de-emphasised. Of course, Affleck's Argo is about good-guy cunning trumping Middle-Eastern bad-guy single-minded political vengeance, and not about what happens when an industry of game-players are played at their own game by their own, and it's the poorer for it. For whilst Affleck is a competent director, and there're moments of genuine tension, Argo can't help but feel perilously pedestrian. Added to which, it turns out the aforementioned tension - the last 30 minutes of the movie - actually never happened. Does that make it any less enjoyable? No, but it does bring in to focus the nature of film's inflated significance as just another piece of flag-waving. Argo is, as things stand, odds on favourite to win the coveted Best Picture award at this year's Oscars, and certainly when compared to the other flag-wavers in competition - Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty - at least they're rooted a shade more in historical accuracy.