After being stuck in what seemed like the 1950’s for my film viewing recently, I needed to be pulled almost bang up-to-date with something that I had been finding the right time to watch, which this time was Argo (2012) this years Oscar winning film, after being snubbed in all the major categories bar the really important one – best picture, which is won. Somehow after getting up from it, I would have gone for Life of Pi (2012). I can see how it won however, the old Hollywood loving itself number which they pull out every-so-often. And it allowed actor/director Ben Affleck to still pick up one of those trophies. I could spend the review trying to argue why it shouldn’t have won, in place of Ang Lee‘s masterpiece of storytelling, but that argument has probably been had by now.
Instead I’ll focus on why it won beyond the point I just made which is blinding the obvious as C.I.A agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) is given the job of providing the best worst option of rescuing 6 hostages from Iran in the 1980 when Iranian and American relations were at their worst when America was offering asylum to one of their leaders. Add to that the coup they helped to pull off with the U.K. years before didn’t really help matters.
The idea that Mendez brings to the table is as crazy as it gets, to set up a fake movie, complete with crew as a cover-up in order to get the 6 U.S workers out of the country to safety. At first the idea is seen as a joke, the only joke that is serious enough to be given the green light. Allowing Mendez to fly off to Hollywood and set up this fake film. Which sounds odd when you think about it. (I could go on forever explaining the falseness of the film, when films are just illusions). Where he meets make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who finds the idea exciting, believing he will fit right in. Knowing that if they are to pull this off they need a fake crew and production company. All the back-story and material to make this all seem real. Even going as far as having a script reading at a convention. There is a clear counterbalance between the madness of the idea and the political tension that leans to madness in Iraq, needed to ease the situation. Turning then to find a producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) who would be mad enough to go along with it all. I’m not sure why Arkin was nominated for his supporting role which was more deserved by Bryan Cranston who had more screen-time and was with Mendez the whole way on the operation.
Once the plan is set-out and in motion in Hollywood, it’s time to head over to Iran to meet and train the hostages in order get them out with plausible stories, knowing their aliases inside-out and back to front. There’s a leap of trust that needs to be made by all of them, something that comes easier to some rather than others, especially Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy) who first persuaded them to leave the U.S. embassy when the riots began. his judgement is questioned when he fails to trust what is essentially their last hope to exit the country alive. If we didn’t have this tension the film would lose its attraction and become predictable. The rest of the hostages are more willing whilst still scared, especially when they go on a location scouting trip where things really heat up for the team.
The sense of danger is always there, even when we don’t see it, we feel it in the other scenes making all the more believable. The look of the film with the blend of new and archive footage is not that of seamless, instead an acknowledgement that this really took place, just being adapted slightly for the screen ratio. Whilst other footage is sewn more seamlessly to create the atmosphere of the time. Of course theirs a sense of nostalgia which goes with any film set in another period, mainly in the fashions and the set design. It all works perfectly.
Why did this win the best picture Oscar then? It was because Hollywood was part of a successful C.I.A mission and they wanted to celebrate that fact, It’s also a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s not too flashy and not too dark. Even with Affleck in the lead role he doesn’t come across as he owns the picture and no one else can touch it It’s about the hostages and how there were saved, giving them ample time. Whilst its competitors which I saw had their strengths, Life of Pi in the art of story telling and the use of C.G.I, whilst Lincoln was a superb depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) to abolish slavery and end the civil war, it was too long and taxing on the audience with all the speeches which can overshadow the grand and classic performances. Whilst I never saw nor was interested by Zero Dark Thirty, the discussion of torture may have hindered any real prospect of getting that all important award. Leaving it between Argo and Life of Pi for me.
I’m not usually one for a comedy-western, feeling that they lack what I find in a straight western. However that was before I read up about this clever little film that comments on the genre, which needs to take the form of a comedy to be effective. From Noon till Three (1976) takes on the origins of the genre, which has been formed on the creation of a legend, or the tale of events, when Graham Dorsey (Charles Bronson) arrives at a widow’s house along with his gang of bank robbers before another job.
Taking the opportunity to escape from his fate as a dead man he makes advances on the lone woman Amanda (Jill Ireland) who has been living in a museum for her late husband, restricting her behavior. Laying on the charm, they fall madly in love whilst the robbery takes place, forcing them to make the best of their time together.
With word of a hanging of his friends back in the town Amanda wants him to be the gallant man who ride off and save the day. And so begins the romantic legend that she cashes in on, wanting to remember her lover, who caused her to awaken from her mourning. Graham’s supposed death raises him to the level of romantic hero, with a few narrative touches that make him more adored by the loving audiences who take the tale of his passions. This mirrors how the history of Frontier America has been blurred by the fictions of pulp books and tall tales based on the events of the day. Audiences feeding on these sensationalized stories, that has been translated to the following century when cinema ate up these tales for the big screen and even bigger audiences.
The film also sees how this profiteering and selling of his life can destroy him, unable to tell the truth as it has been blurred for profit. I’m reminded of the stage play that toured america that depicted in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) that saw Robert Ford along with his brother play-out the closing moments of the gunfighter’s life. Which in-turn had an effect on his life, and eventual demise. When the truth is blurred we lose sight of what is fact and fiction, the fiction by the strength of its popularity becomes fact. Again seen in the earlier The Man who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) that preferred the legend of one mans fall to how it really happened, taking the glory from a better man. Yet allowed Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) to be elected to public office, a man who is believed to have stood up to the bad guys, a people’s hero. So in some cases may it be better than the truth to be hidden if it allows something good to come out of it? Or does hiding the truth hurt someone, I guess it depends on the situation, no set rule can used to decide what is right.
In the case of film and fiction, the most entertaining version sometimes becomes the truth as it’s easier to swallow and believe. How much can we swallow before we want to know what really happened. Which is a current issue that is surrounding a number of Oscar contenders, such as Argo (2012) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012) which blur the truth for purposes of entertainment. If we want the truth, are we to seek it out our selves, or do we accept a filmmakers interpreation and vision, and understand its a loose version of the events. Films at the end of the day are forms of entertainment, they are not meant to be informing us, that’s not their intention, unless they choose to be, which is the choice of the director. Using real-life events as a backdrop to tell a story, and a story is all we want sometimes.
- From Noon Till Three (1976) (every70smovie.blogspot.co.uk)