Sunday, October 28, 2012

Argo: Very Good, but Even Better if More Faithful

Beth and I just saw Argo. I found it very involving, especially since the Iran Hostage crisis was, right up there with Watergate, one of the most memorable national events of my childhood. Very well done, extremely encouraging that such a serious movie could enjoy strong box-office success.

Of course I could not resist truth-squadding the movie afterwards. After a little Googling, I found this very apropos Slate article.  It seems like it was somewhere in the C+/B- range for fidelity. But not all transgressions are equal--even a reductive apologist for realism such as myself will admit the need for dramatic license.

To me, the damning offense was the climacitc getaway sequence. The Slate article confirms its substantial falsity, while drawing the wrong conclusion [my italics]:
Affleck’s version involves every conceivable complication—each one of them, as it happens, invented purely to make the movie more exciting. (And it works! The finale is thrilling.)
I didn't think it worked, at all. The whole down-to-the-wire finish got worse for me by the minute, and collapsed under its own weight with the utterly ridiculous runway chase. I kept whispering to Beth about my doubts that the whole getaway was nearly so fraught as portrayed, but the runway scene triggered an insta-fail on my built-in realism-O-meter.

I can, reluctantly, accept that a smooth-as-silk final sequence in the airport just would not cut it for a fictional movie. So it would have been fine to have the revolutionary guards sweat the escapees for a while in the airport, in the service of dramatic interest. Heck, I could rationalize that, even if said sweating did not actually happen, to the escapees it might have felt that way.

But the action-movie climax undid some of the great storytelling. When you have a story that unbelievable yet true, it doesn't need embellishment. But I suppose if a dollop of excessive drama at the end of a very good movie is an acceptable price, for a high-grade movie to enjoy commerical success.

Full disclosure on the one point, I leaned over and whispered to Beth "I don't believe they were putting together the shredded photos". But apparently they were--sort of. They did have people re-assembling shredded documents--but there doesn't seem to be any indication that they were focused on any particular photos or had an inkling that there were unaccounted-for staff.

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