Now that Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage drama Argo has garnered seven Oscar nominations to add to its mantle, upon which already sit $110 million in domestic box office, near unanimous acclaim from critics, and even a whisper campaign for Affleck to run for John Kerry’s soon-to-be vacated Senate seat, it needs to be said: Argo is a fraud.
Sure, Argo’s an easily consumable mashup of well-worn genres (exotic adventurer, political caper flick, derelict daddy redemption movie, Hollywood insider satire) whose geopolitical themes make it feel smart and important. One could even say that it’s good at what it does: giving these old Hollywood formulas a fresh coat of vintage 1970s paint (color: avocado). But this tactic is what makes the film not merely overrated, but reprehensible. Its modest achievements point to larger failures both in the film and in Hollywood’s ability to regard the world honestly.
Perhaps my disgust wouldn’t be as intense if it weren’t for the potentially great film suggested by Argo’s opening sequence: a history of pre-revolutionary Iran told through eye-catching storyboards. The sequence gives a compelling (if sensationalized) account of how the CIA’s meddling with Iran’s government over three decades led to a corrupt and oppressive regime, eventually inciting the 1979 revolution. The sequence even humanizes the Iranian people as victims of these abuses. This opening may very well be the reason why critics have given the film credit for being insightful and progressive—because nothing that follows comes close, and the rest of the movie actually undoes what this opening achieves.”
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