Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Just watched...

“Argo” directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

Because I am a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild (it does say "Actor" in my profile, right?), as well as the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors since the two unions recently merged, I get screener copies of SAG Award nominated films each year (producers and the union understand screener copies help in the voting), and it is a nice way to catch up on films I have yet to see. And the awards are coming up quickly…

My first screener film to arrive in the mail was “Argo” and I was not at all prepared for how truly engrossing and effective this film is. Despite the fact that it is based on actual real world events, the outcome of which we already know, it still felt alive, immediate, and incredibly suspenseful. It felt like anything could happen. And that is good film making.

As some readers who are old enough to recall (as I do quite vividly), when the Shah was overthrown in Iran in 1979, the revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took hostages. The kidnapping of those men and women lasted over 400 days. But a small group of six American embassy workers managed to escape and hid out in the Canadian Embassy, until a very out-of-the-box-thinking CIA operative dreamed up a plan to fly into Iran and rescue the six. The plan revolved around creating a fictitious film production company, using an actual Hollywood script, faking Canadian passports, and marching the group out, right under the noses of the guards at the airport.

Ben Affleck did a superb job directing, giving it an air of the type of film that rarely gets made anymore. Indeed it is a filmic homage to the 70s, the last period of quality films from Hollywood. It opens with a vintage Warner Brothers logo (the three slashes that make a “W”) and I squealed, “I haven’t seen that in a long time!” There are of course a lot of production design touches to enhance the 70s feeling, like costume and music. But I can’t emphasize enough how the film relies—refreshingly—on narrative, suspense, and character, like they used to, instead of chase scenes or explosions. The entire cast is very good as well, and added to the tension and verisimilitude of the story.

There has been some criticism of the film, mostly about how it downplays the role of the Canadians in the rescue. Looking at historical fact, this seems to be true, but it does not spoil my enjoyment of the film. I am willing to give bigger thanks to our neighbors in the north for the "Canadian Caper" as it is now known, and acknowledge their extremely vital role. I also understand how films condense and edit stories for the sake of clarity, time, and overall flow. Affleck has since put a comment at the end of the film acknowledging Canada's role.

The remaining criticism is aimed at how one-sided the Iranian people are shown in the film. I can’t see that so much. I am aware, first hand, of how the Iranian people were made up of many who were Westernized, forward thinking, and liberal. In 1979, I met several people who got out of the country while they could—just before and immediately after the ousting of the Shah. The film actually does show one of the characters managing to get out of the country, so we are made aware that there was a segment of the population who saw what was coming and wanted no part of it. I know there are people still there who would love to escape. And I have a current Persian friend, whose family did get out just in time, who had no problem with how her people are portrayed in the film. So that aspect did not bother me. But let’s not forget that the rest of the American embassy workers, along with many civilians, and some non-Americans—52 of them in all—were held for 444 days; if the film is one-sided, which I feel it is not, that is a good reason to remember the events, and the people who perpetrated them, with gravitas. The film feels alive and immediate because, sadly, we find ourselves decades later in very similar territory, what with the Libyan Embassy, turmoil in the Muslim world, and continued strained relations with Iran. The events of the film could have happened last month, or perhaps will happen again.

(And on a completely personal and superficial note, Ben Affleck looks amazingly sexy with that shaggy hair and beard! In fact, he has never looked better. Yowsa!)

Recommend? YES!

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