June 2, 2014

I Didn't Like Argo

Hollywood, despite the liberal sensibilities of its actors and other members, is an inherently conservative industry. Sure, on the fringes, you will see films push the boundaries, but the kinds of films that generally get wide releases at the box office are going to be conservative, if not socially or politically, then definitely thematically. That is, Hollywood has a set range of stories and outcomes for its big movies, and no matter what the source material says, their movies will always end up within a few combinations of endings.

This is understandable: making movies is actually a risky business. Battlefield Earth's flop famously sunk Franchise pictures. Any film that you release has a chance of being a loss on the order of hundreds of millions dollars. But nonetheless, these are just excuses: ultimately, the limited number of outcomes for movies sometimes entirely ruins said movies.

This was the case with Argo. And to be fair to the film, a lot of it was accurate. Sure, there were elements of unnecessary suspense, such as when Jack O'Donnell (played by Bryan Cranston) almost misses a phone call just for the drama of it. But for most of the film, Argo sticks relatively faithfully to the story of the rescue of American embassy staff that managed to escape during the Iran hostage crisis, even though it severely downplayed Canada's role, and actually got Great Britain and New Zealand's roles entirely wrong. And all of that could be forgiven as a response to the fact that the filmmakers were probably catering to an American audience.

What ruined the film, though, was the ending.

In real life, there was basically no hassle for the American embassy workers as they left Iran under fake passports, with nobody questioning their story, and no tension at the airport itself. And with that, the biggest actual conflict in the story is gone.

The problem, again, is not the fact that the movie took liberties with the details of the workers actually leaving Iran. The problem is that the film made that conflict central to the plot. All of the dramatic buildup was towards this tension filled scene in the airport, where it seemed likely that these Americans would be detained, and the entire mission would fail. But if that scene was just a lie, then why even bother pretending that the film was based on real events? The film's most important moment and reality's most important moment were not just different, they were literally opposites. At that point, the movie isn't just partly, or even mostly fiction: it is just entirely a fictitious tale, and there was basically no need to pretend for accuracy in any sense of the world.

Maybe they should have just made a movie out of a similar situation during the Iran hostage crisis, when Ross Perot managed to get his employees out by motorcycle over the desert. That probably would have fit Hollywood's narrative scope while also being both true and awesome. Instead, they made a good film that had no basis in reality, but had a major selling point of accuracy and being close to the true story. For me, that makes Argo a movie worth enjoying once, but not really worth watching again.

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