This year’s Best Picture is a film about a previously classified mission in the Middle East. Thinking Zero Dark Thirty? Think again.
Argo chronicles the CIA mission to rescue six Americans from the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, one of the most important events of the Carter administration. Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck (also the director and producer) creates the disguise by which six Americans will be rescued: they pretend to be a film crew, scouting locations for a (fake) science-fiction film, titled Argo.
The cast is rounded out by makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin, nominated for Best Supporting Actor) .
At its core, Argo is a drama/thriller, but what gives it distinction from other films in the genre and its ultimate staying power is its simplicity.
As director, Affleck, makes an incredibly wise move in letting the film’s tension speak for itself—there was no need for a frenzied orchestral score or quick cutting shots to cre- ate the drama that the story and characters had on their own.
Argo skillfully focuses on the story and not on the presentation, which is part of the rea- son it won Best Picture. The recognition of this “less is more” aesthetic is probably why the movie snagged Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Score nominations, and definitely why it is nothing short of a shame that Affleck was denied a Best Director nod.
The production elements are what catapulted the film ahead of the other nominees, but it must also be recognized that out of the its seven nominations, only one of them was for acting. Alan Arkin did not win the Oscar, and this is a fair decision; his snarky repartee does not have enough substance beneath to make him a dynamic character. This underdevelopment is applicable to all of the characters in the film, but is almost necessary when considering the scope of the plot.
There are simply so many characters that it is difficult to develop any of them to the level necessary for critical acclaim. Chris Terrio is definitely deserving of his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, but it is unfortunate that the parts had to suffer for the sake of the whole.
If you have not seen Argo yet, it is worth checking out. This is not a film that you should be afraid to watch; it does have the R-rating for prodigious use of expletives, but the violence is more implicit than it is graphic, which is a welcome aspect in today’s world of gory action films. Those films horrify us at their best and desensitize us at their worst. By avoiding this trap, Argo is able to acknowledge the humor that is found in the midst of tense situations without sacrificing the authenticity and truth of the story.
At times, Argo feels more like a dark comedy, colored with nuance that appealed to both audiences and the Academy and has led to its deserved success.