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Escapist entertainment

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ben Affleck's "Argo" works on multiple levels: as a nail-biting political thriller, as a comedic riff on Hollywood sausage-making, as a nostalgic look back at the late 1970s, and as a meta "movie-within-a-movie" statement. The masterful editing done on this picture alone makes it a worthy contender for one of the best films of the last 10 years. Shining a brighter spotlight on this film in a group setting revealed the following observations and insights:


The power of storytelling: Affleck said in an interview: “Whether it’s political theater, relating to our children, or trying to get people out of danger…telling stories is incredibly powerful.”
Creativity and imagination can outsmart politics. Affleck also said: “There’s a shot I really like where there’s this firing squad, then you go to this read through, and then there’s a firearm, a rifle, and a camera. Hopefully this is subtle, but that suggests the camera is more powerful than the gun.” IndieWire writer Matt Singer also suggested: “Argo…is a love letter to the literally life-saving power of the movies. In order to succeed, Mendez’s plan requires good old fashion Hollywood magic.”
The simplest plan is not always the most effective. This scheme belongs to the “so crazy it just might work” school of thought.

It deliberately evokes the look and feel of the 1970s, especially 1970s cinema, known for its political thrillers. Consider that the movie starts with the old Warner Brothers logo from the 1970s, uses archival news footage and memorable figures of the time (from newscasters like Ted Koppel, Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace to leaders like the Ayatollah and President Carter), and applies a grain to the patina of the film that also harkens to movies made decades ago . Affleck commented: “I thought it’d be, sort of, a trick of the brain. If you’re looking at a movie that looks like it was made in the 1970s, it’s more easy for the brain to subconsciously accept the events they’re watching are taking place during that period. Now, you can’t do that if you’re doing a movie about the revolutionary war. We had an interesting advantage: the era I was trying to replicate was a really great era for filmmaking. I got to copy these really great filmmakers: Sidney Lumet, Scorsese, and so on.”
Arguably, this picture handled the Iranian hostage crisis era with a delicate hand, being careful not to use stereotypes or clichés of a country that was considered our enemy at that time. Many thought it was unfortunate that there isn’t a significant Iranian character depicted in this movie, although others commented on the fact that there are no disparaging characterizations of Islam. Consider that voiceover narration that starts the film suggests that American doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to the Middle East or the politics it played in that region leading up to Iranian revolution. 
This movie is an espionage thriller, but it doesn’t engage in spry movie clichés and trappings: it lacks explosions, high-tech gadgets and weapons, exchanges of gunfire, and obligatory sex scenes with beautiful women. Instead, the knot is tightened with a palpable sense of foreboding and fear about what could happen to the hideouts.
While Affleck does a commendable job behind the camera, one could make a case that he doesn’t bring anything special to the role of Agent Mendez—that this character could have been played with someone who could have infused the part with more emotion and gravitas.
One writer, David Thomson, posits that Argo is actually a reboot of Casablanca, “where the good guys make their escape, despite the unshaded malice of Colonel Strasser and the Nazis.”
Of course, the movie takes liberties with the facts of this historical event, and has faced criticism “for minimizing the role of the Canadian embassy in the rescue, for falsely showing that the Americans were turned away by the British and New Zealand embassies, and for exaggerating the danger that the group faced during events preceding their escape from the country,” according to Wikipedia. 

1970s political thrillers like The Parallax View, The Anderson Tapes, Day of the Jackal and All the President’s Men, Midnight Express
Zero Dark Thirty

The Town
Live By Night
Gone Baby Gone

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