Best Picture of 2012: Argo



Violence, generally speaking, is the easiest method of dealing with a problem. Humanity has developed an unimaginable number of ways to end lives and thus end various problems associated with those lives. The obvious dilemma with fixing problems with violence stems from that pesky thing known, almost universally, as a conscience. To end a problem quickly using a method of death runs a very high risk of incurring collateral damage; innocent people getting killed along with a primary target. Taking in these, very rudimentary, ethics based observations, we can see how solving difficult situations non-violently can be grounds for some of the greatest puzzles that mankind can face. In the 2012 Academy Award winning best picture Argo, we get a dramatized glimpse into one of the most daring and harebrained rescue schemes ever to grace the big screen or the history books; in essence, an incredibly intriguing and suspenseful movie that deals with a hostile situations in a creative and non-violent way.

Argo takes place within the scope of the Iranian hostage crisis that began in 1979 and lasted an astonishing 444 days. A militant mob attacked the American embassy in Iran and held those inside hostage. There were, however, six Americans that managed to escape before the embassy fell. Ben Affleck stars, co-produces and directs this film. He plays the pivotal roll of Tony Mendez, the CIA operative responsible for coming up with the escape plan that the movie centers around. This plan requires the CIA to enlist the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (played by the always entertaining John Goodman) in helping them create a fictitious movie studio, produce a fake movie, and create false identities for the six stranded Americans. Loosely, the plan is to create six false Canadian identities with strong enough backgrounds to hold up under questioning. Mendez is supposed to fly in to Iran and teach these six people their new identities front to back, and then fly them out of under the guise of being a Canadian film crew scouting exotic locations. A peaceful solution to a violent puzzle.

The movie attempts to describe a historical event that only became declassified in the late 90s. As a film it succeeds in every aspect that it attempts to tackle; the drama in it is incredibly suspenseful, all the character share a strong chemistry, particularly John Goodman and Alan Arkin (Arkin plays Lester Siegel), the costumes and sets are believable and there is never a slow moment. In reality the only thing the movie really faltered on was the historical accuracy of it. While we may never know exactly what happened to the last detail, certain critics complained that Affleck knowingly downsized the involvement of the Canadian government in this film, while at the same time presenting on screen danger that really wasn’t there. These criticisms are shrugged off and chalked up to creative license.

To quickly mention the chemistry between the actors as I did in the last paragraph and just leave it would not be doing this movie any justice. The fact that Alan Arkin was the only nomination this movie garnered for an actor or actress was shocking. Every character in this film not only looked and played their part exceptionally well, but they interacted with each other in a fluid manner that, when combined with the narrative and seamless editing, made it far too easy to lose yourself in the story.

Argo won two other Oscars Sunday night. Winning the award for best adapted screen play as well as best video editing; it became the first movie since 1989 to win best picture and not be nominated for best director. While the omission is certainly glaring, we can instead focus for a moment on it’s award winning editing.  Making use of actual archival footage and matching the sets to an astonishing degree lends to the authentic feel of the film. As I stated before, the historical inaccuracies of the film are not few, but unless you’re very familiar with the history surrounding the situation, you would be hard pressed to see them. Switching between the CIA head quarters to the Canadian Prime Minster’s house in Iran to various Hollywood sets is fluent and natural. The chase scenes and the cinematic potency of the film heightens the suspense and drama to an almost uncomfortable level in which one can hardly wait to see what happens next. A feat that certainly requires an excellent grasp on the art of film editing.

There exist in this world great problem solvers; gifted individuals that can look beyond the easy, yet messy, method of violent solutions and can come up with ideas that seem preposterous to the point of the absurd. Yet given the chance they can succeed. Argo isn’t just a historically based caper, it’s a tribute to the problem solvers of the world. It’s an artifact that shows that sometimes there are long ways around problems that are well worth taking.