(who is the most self-important person in this picture?)
Argo is scandalously lousy, considering the praise heaped on it. I normally don't pay any attention to the Academy Awards, for obvious reasons, but they've really outdone themselves voting for this piece of tripe as best picture; the film is a sub-cinematic liberal wank, an act of Hollywood self-congratulation, and yet another attempt by Ben Affleck to sell us on how soulful, deep, and caring he is (he's getting to be worse than M. Night Shyamalan, whom I always sort of hoped wasn't being entirely serious in his self-flattering self-castings; Affleck couldn't even cast himself as a Boston bank robber - in The Town - without making him the most generous, caring, and moral bank robber in America). Pretty much everyone already knows the film's story, drawn from an actual historical footnote: Affleck, as a CIA "exfiltration" specialist, cooks up a scheme to rescue six Americans from the residence of the Canadian ambassador of Iran, as a sort of sideshow to the Iranian hostage crisis. His idea - "the best bad idea we've got," as his CIA cohort Bryan Cranston describes it at one point - is to pose as a film producer, smuggle in forged documents, coach the diplomats and their wives how to pass as movie people, do a bit of location scouting in Iran, and convince the Iranians that they are a Canadian film crew for a low budget Star Wars knockoff named Argo. To make the story believable, Affleck and his CIA co-conspirators actually hold press conferences in America, get an article published in a trade journal, rent an office, design a poster and storyboards, and option an actual screenplay.
The film adds absolutely nothing of interest to the story just told, just acts it out in the (doubtlessly highly oversimplified and historically inaccurate) manner of a TV movie of the week, so unless you're illiterate, if what you want is historical information, just read the Wikipedia entry on the actual mission (or, heaven forbid, a book about it) and skip the film altogether. If you ARE illiterate, you could still have a more entertaining and edifying experience by having someone else read the Wikipedia entry to you, while bypassing the film. Since we all know Argo is based on a true story, and since there would be no movie here if the mission didn't succeed, there's not even any real suspense generated. The film has no visual interest, no particularly well-developed characters, takes no risks, and does very little with the cast members with actual talent that Affleck surrounds himself with (Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Rory Cochrane, even a bizarrely wasted Michael Parks, who flickers on-screen for all of three seconds and then completely and utterly disappears). Exactly one funny joke occurs when Arkin, as one of the Hollywood people brought on board, refuses to answer a persistent reporter's question about the name of the ship in the movie - the ship also being called Argo - and, growing tired of being badgered ("Argo what? Argonaut?"), responds with "Argo fuck yourself!" An amusing moment from a talented veteran, but the film is so short on other inspired things to do or say that it repeats the joke some five times (each repetition of which is still more interesting and entertaining than anything else that happens in the film).
Then there's the question of the moral purpose of Argo: on one level, it can be seen as an endorsement of CIA involvement in the entertainment industry; on the other, it seems to suggest that silly science fiction movies are somehow a universal good that can solve all the world's problems and triumph over fundamentalism, anti-Americanism, and all manner of political ills and injustices ("Iranian revolution bad, cheapshit Hollywood knockoffs good"). Both of these factors probably go a long way to explaining the Oscar, since Americans LIKE siding with authority whenever possible, and seem to enjoy celebrating their own vapid mass culture, but they don't make Argo a good, or even a moral, film. In fact, Argo is a bunch of mediocre rubbish, and should be avoided.
I would perhaps be kinder on it if it hadn't won an Academy Award for best picture, but... fuckit.
Something similar happens with incidental radio and TV broadcasts in the film. Killing Them Softly makes, at times, great use of the speeches of Barack Obama, as delivered just before and just after his election. The climax of the film is basically Brad Pitt in a bar responding to Obama derisively, offering a very different vision of America from Obama's. This moment resonates against an early scene where Scoot McNairy (also in Argo, but much better here), as one of the hapless wannabe hoods, trudges along, dishevelled and obviously broke, with an Obama Change poster in the background. That moment at the beginning of the film, and Pitt's reaction to Obama on TV at the film's end, are absolutely all that the film needs to make it obvious even to the stupid people in the audience that the film is attempting to use the crime genre to comment on contemporary American life. Anything more would be overkill, and out of keeping with the restraint, subtlety, craft, and quiet tension that the film cultivates through most of its runtime. Overkill is just what we get, however. A good fifteen minutes of the film - ie., far too much of it - is commented upon and overlaid by voiceovers from political speeches, including an ample helping of Bush; some of this becomes patently silly in its overtness. There is discussion at one point in the film of the necessity of killing a certain character, to show that there are consequences for misbehaviour; the next time we see this character on screen, a Bush speech booms out of the soundtrack talking about the need to punish corporate criminals, which exactly echoes the prior conversation ("there need to be consequences!"). It's exactly like using "Heroin" to illustrate the shooting of heroin; it's out of keeping with the stuff that works in the film, but completely IN keeping with the stuff that doesn't, so much so that I really want to be able to absolve the director and blame someone else.
On the other hand, if the director, Andrew Dominik, is in fact the responsible party - well, someone let him see this review, okay? He should trust his audience (and himself) more. We can take it.