It’s the January lull as studios dump their worst crop of films while last year’s notable awards contenders are campaigning to victory or defeat. As I wait for the arrival of some of my most anticipated films for the year, I thought it the perfect opportunity to revisit Ben Affleck’s Argo. The further removed from my initial viewing the less likely I’m willing to defend it. Not to dismiss Argo entirely, but simply put, it’s a film that doesn’t arouse passionate support in the same way other films of 2012 demanded. Going back into the film, I suspected my original take on the film may have been somewhat misguided by festival hype and an intimate prescreening for the picture.
That cynical return to the film may have contributed to the unexpected surprise of how well it held up from my original viewing. My first take on the picture admired its efficiency and perpetual narrative movement – two aspects that I can certainly attest to in this second viewing. From the picture’s riveting siege opening to its final escape scenes, Argo is very much held together by two crucial aspects: Chris Terrio’s simple yet effective screenplay and William Goldenberg’s precise editing. Goldenberg’s work, much like his work in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, has particular crispness in cuts and juxtaposition. It works exceedingly well with Affleck’s moving camera, which may have likely attributed to the sentiment of Affleck’s development as a director – I’m not entirely buying it though. If there’s one fault to Argo, it may be Affleck involvement in general. The swirling Christopher Nolan-esque movement of his camera does the material justice in its pivotal action sequences, but are jarring in scenes that require a bit more of a dramatic touch. And one can make an argument that Argo becomes less good upon Affleck’s introduction as the picture’s central character. His performance lacks the crucial intimacy found in the supporting characters of the film.
Another particularly glaring issue that only resonated more on this second viewing is Argo’s ethnocentric stance on Iranians and the social upheaval that serves as a backdrop for the film. From the fairly interpretative use of Battle for the Planet of the Apes to its glossy overview of the social concerns afflicting Iran at the time, the picture’s Western perspective substitutes social responsibility for guttural tension. Whereas Zero Dark Thirty fell under fire for its politicizing, Argo’s rah-rah Americanisms are significantly more troubling. Still, one can’t necessarily fault Affleck and company for the direction they took with the material – there’s no particular attempt to adhere to fact. The sphere in which Argo operates is strictly that of entertainment, where it works. As dismissive as I may seem of the film upon this rewatch, so much of that aforementioned guttural tension makes for an especially enjoyable film. Its concise, narrative-driven elements possess dramatic heft and on the whole, the picture is paced beautifully.
Despite controversy surrounding a Best Director omission for Ben Affleck, Argo has performed surprisingly well in this post-nomination phase of campaigning. Golden Globe wins for Picture and Director, coupled with Producer’s Guild Association and Screen Actor Guild wins, secures Argo as the leading contenders for Best Picture. And given the crowd-pleasing nature of the last two films to win Best Picture, The Artist and The King’s Speech, Argo looks to fall right in place with those films. Argo serves to please on a fairly broad level, though like so many films that garner such populist support, it’s not an entirely fulfilling film.