Sunday, January 20, 2013


Ben Affleck's film is so many things, it wants to be so many things, that its adequate effectiveness as political thriller is overburdened by complications arising from its other genuflections to Hollywood modes. First, the "witty" dialogue. Sweet Jesus, I've grown to hate "witty" dialogue. Let me be clear: it is not wit I hate - instead it is the sort of strained . Not quite verbatim, here's an exchange. "History starts out as farce, and ends up as tragedy," says Alan Arkin at one point. "You have it backwards," corrects John Goodman. "Who said that?" "Marx." "Groucho Marx said that!?" The audience laughed on cue, but I just groaned. Another example: "Jimmy Carter said you were a great American." "A great American what?" "He didn't say." (Polite chuckles from the crowd.)  To me this plays like dialogue written by someone not in the interest of sculpting interesting characters or situations, or even of advancing the narrative efficiently, but instead seems like dialogue written by someone straining. But what do I know, since the theater was packed full of vocally appreciative viewers, and Ben Affleck won a Golden Globe. How many Golden Globes have I won?

Additionally, the question of family comes up. Earnest portrayals of broken families are totally in right now, so it's important to round out the character of Tony Mendez by showing his dedication to estranged wife & child. It's Hollywoodism, plain and simple, these conventional nods to things like family background, or the brief snippets we get of the "good Iranian." Yet this appears at odds with another touch (which I also didn't appreciate), namely Affleck's decision to craft so many of the images in imitation of news clippings - and in case you didn't understand how art directed this whole things was, with the hair & the mustache & the big glasses, the credits sequence clues you in by showing side-by-side comparisons of iconic images of Iran during the hostage crisis coincided with moments from the film. (How much better would Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky have been if it kept its own iconographic dalliances an "open secret," rather than repeating and explaining them all at the climax?) Argo seeks the closure and comfort of Hollywood convention while striving all the same for an imaginative, quasi-archival recreation. This, plus the constant attempts at smart and witty dialogue, conspire to bog down what is otherwise a competent suspense movie.

Of course I have not even touched upon the film's politics, except in a very broadly implicit way, but you can suspect that some of the problems I've outlined here transfer over, naturally ...


Dan O. said...

It was good, that’s for damn sure, but there also felt like something was missing from the final-product to really take us by storm. Everybody’s fun to watch and the movie has it’s tense moments, but overall, it’s not as exciting when you know the out-come beforehand. Nice review Zach.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..