Argo (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) This Iranian-hostage thriller annoyed me for several reasons: Never mind the last few lines that so generously allow Canada to take credit for a CIA operation, or the selective political context, or the way that a Hollywood production self-importantly suggests that Hollywood can be important on the geopolitical stage (no wonder it won the Oscar…): the way real-life facts are tortured until they end up with the kind of breathless thriller in which a departing plane is followed by jeeps filled with would-be killers is enough to make your eyes roll waaay back.  Shamelessly rearranging history to suit the purposes of crowd-friendly entertainment, Argo practically demonstrates how bad Hollywood can be in distorting reality.  But the real surprise is that despite all of those flaws… the film is actually quite enjoyable.  Director Ben Affleck manages a third solid film in as many attempts, even through Argo is a bit more ambitious in its historical setting than the Bostonian crime dramas of either Gone Baby Gone or The Town.  The rhythm of the film is steadily engrossing, and the Hollywood interludes (featuring a splendid Alan Arkin) bring a bit of levity to a premise that naturally lends itself to a somber tone.  Argo arguably becomes more interesting as it deviates further and further away from reality, as the CIA agent goes rogue in refusing an order to abort the operation, as the fake film-crew takes unjustifiable risks, as the Iranian security forces get closer and closer to the fleeing fugitives.  By the time the jeeps are chasing the departing plane on the airport tarmac, it’s practically an unintentional comedy.  It’s hard to deny that Argo is splendidly entertaining, and that’s a significant edge over the not-dissimilar Zero Dark Thirty.  Still, as a Canadian I feel a duty to tut-tut this film over its historical inaccuracies.  You should still see it for its craft… but follow it up with a documentary such as Our Man in Tehran for a more thorough overview of the real events.

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