January 29, 2013

The Definitive "Argo" Takedown

There seems to be talk that Ben Affleck's movie about hostages in Iran in 1979-80, Argo, will win the Best Picture Oscar (even though Ben didn't get a Best Director nod). 

I thought Argo was fine as a satisfactory example of the Married Couple's Date Movie, which has become rare. But as Best Picture? 

Noah Millman supplies the definitive Argo takedown.

21 comments:

Glossy said...

"But the cavalry comes on a pretty strange horse..."

The word cavalry comes from Latin "caballus", which means horse. It cannot come on a horse. It already IS horse. And rider, yes, but the horse + rider combination still cannot be put on another horse. Not even in a circus.

Anonymous said...

Since when does the real best film ever win best film?

'Best film' is an insult, and the best film should never win.

Anonymous said...

"But the absence of a “moon” – of any sense of what the mission was that failed, and that we now need to extricate people from, which is part of how the movie avoids offending anyone – deprives that message of any emotional punch, and turns the movie into something more akin to a campaign ad."

But campaign ads are full of moons, and many of them are specifically designed to OFFEND.
It's NPR and PBS documentaries that try not to offend, at least not overtly.

Anonymous said...

"There isn’t even any real conflict between America and Iran. We see period clips of Americans furious at the hostage-taking, and we see Iranians furious at America’s historic support for the oppressive Pahlavi regime, but none of the actual characters behave as if there is any reason for America and Iran to be in conflict. It’s just very unfortunate that we’re in this mess, and the Americans we see just want to find an honorable way out."

This sort of reads like Pauline Kael's review of Warren Beatty's REDS. She said that for a movie about a radical caught up in a revolution, the film was very safe and conventional, even old-fashioned. It didn't have the guts to really offend anyone.
Maybe Affleck is trying to be Beatty of today.

On the other hand--I'm guessing as I haven't seen the film--, maybe Affleck's point is that when you're on the ground rubbing shoulders with everyday people in everyday reality, 99% of life isn't about politics. And there's some truth to that. If a redneck goes to NY, he might expect to see all sorts of radical liberals being brash and loud and getting in his face. But in fact, most of the reality in NY is just people trying to live.
And if a liberal goes to Texas, he might expect guys with big hats and big guns acting like 19th century cowboys, but most of real life is Texas is just people trying to live.

So, the irony of ARGO could be that even though US and Iran have politically locked horns, much of the reality on the ground is about people trying to live day to day. It's banality caught between nationalities.

David said...

It's hard to make a movie. Why beat on more or less innocuous films/ filmmakers?

Others are more deserving of takedowns. Tarantino still hasn't had enough, IMO.

Nothing in a movie is more tiresome than contrived conflict. Despite what the "Screenwriting for Dummies" books say, a good screenplay doesn't necessarily maximize every conceivable opportunity for conflict. That's soap-opera writing as opposed to purposefulness/ art (a point that Millman evidently is aware of, but dislikes).

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Is there any other actor in film who gets away with being as consistently bad as Ben Affleck? Being the director has its advantages.

SF said...

OT--The San Francisco Chronicle headline on Obama's immigration plan was "Gay Couples not Included."

Anonymous said...

Yes, the article does a very good job of articulating what made the movie rather uninteresting, despite the lack of major technical problems.

David Davenport said...

With that low hairline wig on his head, it's hard to recognize Argo's he-row as Ben Aflack.

Also, with that beard ( Was the beard also a paste-on? ) he looks racially quite similar to the Persians.

Harry Baldwin said...

Millbank makes some valid points, but it doesn't change the fact that like many people I enjoyed this movie and thought it was very well done.

When I go to the movies, I hope that what I see will not annoy me by being full of logical inconsistencies in the plot (recent Batman movies, The Grey), bad casting (Les Mis), utter lack of emotional engagement with the story (Skyfall), terrible acting and dialog (Star Wars prequels), heavy-handed liberal moralizing (The Help), scenes that go on too long (The Hobbit), and failure to maintain dramatic tension (Zero Dark Thirty). Argo did not fail on any of those accounts.

Matra said...

Is there nothing original in Hollywood anymore? There was a made-for-TV movie about this subject 30 years ago called Escape From Iran. But being Canadian I guess nobody outside Canada ever saw it.

DaveinHackensack said...

"Since when does the real best film ever win best film?"

Didn't The Departed win? Wasn't that the real best film that year?

Anonymous said...

For once I'm glad that Hollywood votes Democratic. If it sided with Republicans, this movie would have depicted Iranians as subhuman monsters just asking for some democracy to be spread about their asses by the US Air Force.

pat said...

About a two weeks ago I wrote that the director job couldn't be all that hard because so many ex-actors moved into the director's chair with not much preparation.

In general I think all Hollywood actors can act, in much the same way that all major league center fielders can play ball. The money is good and the competition is fierce. The only exception would be in the case of leading men and women. The supporting players are always excellent.

Ben Afflick is a case in point. He looks right of course but can't act his way out of a paper bag. I used to refer to his contribution to a film's acting ensemble as "the turd in the punch bowl".

But he has had absolutely no difficulty in becoming an established director. The conventional wisdom is that directing is a rare and precious gift while any good looking boob can be an actor. Afflick would seem to refute both those propositions.

Albertosaurus

pat said...

I will catch this movie when it advances to Blu-ray status. From your review and the comments, I am prepared to like it. It certainly sounds better than the only other movie I remember themed on the Iranian hostage crisis.

That was the made-for-TV movie - "On Wings of Eagles". This was a vanity history paid for by Ross Perot. It tried to justify Perot's loopy private invasion of Iran. It was his second private invasion and, like the first, a bust. But if you have enough money you can tell the story your way.

It's amazing how many expensive war movies have been made about every obscure little action in WWII. But nothing about the Kosovo conflict or even the campaign to round up Islamic terrorists. Surely this is Hollywood's greatest sin.

I had an intern from Iran who's father gave half of all his cash to each of his two sons and put them on motorcycles. The told them to head for the border. They made it to California. It was quite an adventure, as worthy of a feature film as any WWII tale of daring doo.

Another friend and colleague escaped from Iraq. He told be once with great sincerity that Saddam Hussein was the devil. His story and the story of other Christians in Iraq also needs to be told.

The Nazis were bad guys, but so have been only too many other groups. I applaud Afflick for not making yet another movie about how we beat those pesky Nazis.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

And if it were directed by paleocons (no don't laugh) it would end with all the characters dancing to age of aquaris a la 40 year old virgin while mushroom clouds engulf tel aviv and Washington dc

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is, there really is no reason for Iran and the United States of America to be enemies. The countries lie thousands and thousands of miles apart from each other. Until relatively modern times, they had almost no contact with each other, either on a diplomatic or societal level. If you had told an American in say, 1800, 1825, 1850, 1880, 1902, 1928, etc, that Iran (or Persia) was a country that was his enemy it would have all sounded very strange. As strange as it would sound to a Costa Rican today. It is America's unrewarding ties to Israel, entirerly the result of the power and influence of its domestic Jewish lobby that accounts for it.

*Please no replies about oil. The USA gets very little of its oil from the middle east. It is a canard that America is dependent on mideast oil for its energy needs*

Anonymous said...

"Argo" was all right. Sort of like "The Artist." Films that portray movie makers in a positive light generally do well at events held for the stars to salute themselves.

btw Steve, did you see the "60 Minutes" clip with Obama & Rodham waxing lyrical on their warm, close relationship of mutual respect? How in any world remotely approaching a sane one does that not end up spoofed in the cold open of this weekend's SNL

Norville Rogers said...

"there really is no reason for Iran and the United States of America to be enemies... Jewish lobby... Please no replies..."

I think I've heard basically the same form of that from the more left-wing "neocons" and the late C. Hitchens & his followers as well. The theory is that any people who remember the Shah are either old and feeble now, or long dead from the defensive slow-mo Stalingrad fight against Iraq in the 80s. So it is just petty domestic political brinkmanship at this point (see also Fidel Castro).

However the diplomatic bureaucracy's Iran problem is way older than that (back when said Israel lobby was formally aligned to the USSR). You seem to think nothing happened there until the 1973 OPEC embargo.

Norville Rogers said...

Good review by Millman. I think the local Iranians in "Argo" were convincingly pissed-off though. So that made the babe-in-the-woods Americans paradoxically appropriate. These are the kind of Montessori milquetoast people who work in the foreign service nowadays. Look at Peace Corps cannon fodder Chris Stevens, for whose fate the future Hillary Administration has taken full responsibility.

kaganovitch said...

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

"Is there any other actor in film who gets away with being as consistently bad as Ben Affleck? Being the director has its advantages."

Spoken like a man who neversaw the classic "Gigli"