Commercializing Crisis: Argo Employs Familiar Hollywood Tropes

By Barthel, Josh; Guajardo, Eric et al. | Harvard International Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Commercializing Crisis: Argo Employs Familiar Hollywood Tropes


Barthel, Josh, Guajardo, Eric, Kassahun, Ben, Harvard International Review


Critics and audiences will agree: Ben Affleck has done it again. With its numerous .0 award nominations and victories, Argo will surely join Gone Baby Gone and The Town as an Affleck-directed box-office success, and rightfully so. In Argo (based on Joshuah Bearman's 2007 article in Wired, which itself is about the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis), classic movie elements are strung together to weave a story that leaves the viewer hostage to the film's suspense.

Argo's greatest success lies in its ability to capture the viewer's mood. Pairing the hangings of counter-revolutionaries with Hollywood dazzle and wit is an odd cocktail, indeed, and the viewer is made to feel it. The narrative itself is always comprehensible, but rather disorienting, as it well should be: the strangeness of the actual historical plot made little room for factual liberties to be taken without backlash by the writers and director.

Sadly lacking is emotional depth in the protagonist, Tony Mende; played by Affleck himself Stone-faced throughout, sympathizing with him is emotionally draining. The least interesting portions of the film are those associated with him, and other characters are forced to serve as virtual beacons of light to distract from our bearded paragon of laconism. Perhaps ironically, the characters in the Hollywood industry, played by John Goodman and Man Arkin, come across as the most human. The hostages, while forming a dynamic group appropriately suffering from cabin fever, are minor characters: they enrich the plot and make their experience memorable, but are not given any more attention than is necessary.

Enthusiasts of history will appreciate the film's initial depiction of the Islamic Revolution and its resulting despotism, although the portrayal is abandoned by the end of the film. This is a shame, as few films have done as well as this one at capturing the raw power of a politically motivated mob, or the sadly all-encompassing role suspicion plays in the aftermath of revolution. The historical lessons are predictably and shamelessly sacrificed for the sake of suspense. Instead of enriching viewers with evenhanded examination of political implications, Affleck forces viewers to anxiously follow the hostages from checkpoint to checkpoint until they reach their salvation.

The film has been criticized by some for its factual errors. Some of these errors, such as the appearance of an Ewok figurine from the 1983 Star Wars movie, are benign. Yet others, like the fact that, even during the revolution there were still US teachers in Tehran are more serious, since they alter the plot. Further error can be found in the final airport scene: while in the film, the team is harassed, interrogated, and chased by the police, in reality, the US saviors made it onto the plane without a hassle. …

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Commercializing Crisis: Argo Employs Familiar Hollywood Tropes
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