There was a time, long ago, when television networks didn’t have programs running twenty-four hours a day, and each night’s broadcast ended with an update on the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It was a time when news was impossible to avoid and nearly all Americans seemed invested in the outcome.
Argo, directed by Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, The Town) recounts the Iranian hostage crisis, focusing not on what happened to the hostages inside, but what happened to the five hostages who managed to escape.
While Iranians stormed the U.S Embassy, five Americans escaped out a back door and sought refuge in the home of a Canadian diplomat (Victor Garber). While the film briefly touches on the difficulties any hostage faces, such as not walking outside at risk of being seen, it focuses more on the development and execution of Tony Mendez’s elaborate plan to rescue them.
When telling a story based on true events, it’s difficult to captivate an audience for a full two hours, because the known resolution of the story can detract from the suspense inherent in the conflict. Argo, however, successfully distracts audience members from this comfort by portraying the conflict as a steeplechase in which American and Iranian forces race to find or rescue the American hostages first.
While some may argue that the film exaggerates just how close the two sides were as they crossed the finish line, the dramatization appropriately portrays the fierce uncertainty the hostages face as their fate vacillated between life and death.
Finding humor in a deeply serious situation provides much needed comedic relief in this Best Picture contender whose competitors in the award race also explore grave themes. From the agonizing relationship between love and death presented in Amour to the perilous hunt for Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, Argo presents a unique opportunity for audience members to unwind and emotionally invest in a story already known to have a satisfying ending.
Chris Terrio’s (Heights) screenplay sarcastically ridicules high-level CIA officers as they struggle to produce viable rescue strategies for the hostages. If Hollywood characters, brought to life by John Goodman and Alan Arkin, aren’t amusing enough, massive sideburns and seemingly ancient seventies technology provide ample entertainment for anyone born post-crisis.
The debate Hollywood has been having over the past few weeks asks the question; “Why then, if Mr. Affleck has created such a satisfying and enjoyable film, has he not been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director?”
The debate hinges on the fact that Mr. Affleck was nominated for and won the Golden Globe award for Best Director. His absence from the Academy’s nominations, therefore, apparently implies that members of the Academy were less appreciative of the film and kept Mr. Affleck out of the category for deliberate and unfair reasons.
In reality, Mr. Affleck is a young director with great potential for more success in the future. His film is observably not as refined as Steven Speilberg’s Lincoln; however, his complete professional investment acts as the most disbelief of all.
“I was just surprised that he wasn’t at all acknowledged with a nomination, because he was clearly so invested in this project,” says first-year Kelsey Berry. “Not only did he direct the film, but he produced and starred in it as well. His dedication is incredibly impressive.”
Some argue that when the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to nine candidates, they should have expanded this Best Director category as well. Inevitably, with nine Best Picture nominations, four directors who were talented and devoted enough to create a Best Picture contender are ousted from the nominations.
Thankfully, Mr. Affleck seems to have maintained perspective on this situation while it was dramatized in the Hollywood film industry. Backstage at the Golden Globes he stated, “We were just nominated for seven Oscars. We’re thrilled! If you can’t be happy with that, then your prospects for long term happiness are quite low.”
Argo will be playing as part of the Filmboard series this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is only $1.