‘Argo’ revisited February 23, 2013
The 85th Academy Awards are Sunday and among the films nominated are “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lincoln” and “Argo,” all based on historical events. “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln” have been attacked recently for historical inaccuracies. “Zero Dark Thirty’s” controversy stems from claims that the CIA received information regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden through methods of torture. The film’s director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are standing by the film and have defended its accuracy in numerous publications.
“Lincoln” is now under scrutiny because Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., noticed that two Connecticut congressmen in the film voted against the abolishing of slavery. According to Courtney’s research, Connecticut’s entire congressional delegation voted in favor of the 13th Amendment. “Lincoln’s” screenwriter Tony Kushner has had to respond to the press regarding the change in history.
Another historical film that has skated by with minimal press attention is the one that is now the frontrunner in the race to the big prize, “Argo.”
“Argo” has many historical inaccuracies, but critics, audiences and the media have all been able to ignore or are not aware of them. When first seeing the film I was pulled into this historical thriller from the beginning, but later found the film was not accurate. The climactic ending that many have pointed to as exceptional filmmaking was fabricated and certain dramatic elements were added. The final phase in Tony Mendez’s plan to extract six American diplomats went much smoother than the film would have us believe.
When I first reviewed “Argo” I looked at this inaccuracy of the film as a major downfall, but I stood alone. Now that “Argo” is the frontrunner in the Oscar race I decided to revisit Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort and was pleasantly surprised, historical inaccuracies aside.
I found myself more engaged by Affleck’s performance. Originally I referred to Affleck as “a bump on a log,” but found his simple human performance engaging. Affleck never mugged for the camera or reached an angry moment without motivation. His quiet intensity brings to life a man who has met conflict too often in a failed marriage or rescue attempts.
John Goodman as makeup artist John Chambers and Alan Arkin as pseudo producer Lester Siegel were equally engaging the second time around, but I still wanted more scenes with these two intriguing Hollywood heavies. Bryan Cranston as CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnel contrasts with Affleck’s Mendez flawlessly. While Affleck is reserved and only reaches anger in rare moments, O’Donnel is frantic and sporadic, especially when he demands the Chief of Staff be pulled out of a meeting by pretending to be an administrator at the Chief’s children’s school.
The acting is excellent and unfortunately will not be recognized by the academy, because there were so many exceptional performances this year. The academy also will not recognize Affleck on Sunday (Affleck was not nominated for best director) who succeeds in his direction and attention to detail. Affleck’s been quoted saying that he modeled his scenes after great ’70s films including “All the President’s Men.”
This influence is obvious during the scenes in the CIA headquarters, but his ’70s influence is lost when he trades real drama for today’s forced Hollywood drama. Affleck is obviously a big fan of Alan J. Pakula, director of “All the President’s Men,” and Sidney Lumet, director of two of my favorites, “Network” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” Unfortunately Affleck’s love letter to these directors and others has a few errors and lacks substance until the end.
The final act of “Argo” is, simply put, one of the most nail-biting finales I’ve seen in a film. I couldn’t believe all the close calls and intensity the Americans had to endure when they were trying to finally return home to America. Little did I know my questions of reality were not speculative, but I’ll leave it to you to check the facts or appreciate this film strictly as “based on” a true story.
Movie fan Patrick White doesn't spare anyone's feelings when deciding if the latest Hollywood offering is trash or treasure. Catch his reviews on the latest theater and DVD releases in Saturday's paper.