If Andrew O’Hehir wanted to have some kind of impact on the Best Picture race, why didn’t he post this even-tempered but fairly damning Salon article — “Why Argo Doesn’t Deserve The Oscar” — back in mid or late January instead of today? Because baby, it’s all over now.
Excerpt: “The Americans never resisted the idea of playing a film crew, which is the source of much agitation in the movie. (In fact, the ‘house guests’ chose that cover story themselves, from a group of three options the CIA had prepared.) They were not almost lynched by a mob of crazy Iranians in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, because they never went there. There was no last-minute cancellation, and then un-cancellation, of the group’s tickets by the Carter administration. (The wife of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor had personally gone to the airport and purchased tickets ahead of time, for three different outbound flights.) The group underwent no interrogation at the airport about their imaginary movie, nor were they detained at the gate while a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard telephoned their phony office back in Burbank. There was no last-second chase on the runway of Mehrabad Airport, with wild-eyed, bearded militants with Kalashnikovs trying to shoot out the tires of a Swissair jet.
“All that is supposed to be dramatic license, ‘just a movie,’ ‘based on a true story’ vs. actually attempting to tell the truth. I get it. But I’m less concerned with the veracity of individual details than with the fact that Argo uses its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.
“It’s a totalizing fiction whose turning points are narrow escapes and individual derring-do designed to foreground Affleck and his star power (instead of the long, grinding work of Canadian-American collaboration behind the scenes that made the real rescue possible), an adventure yarn whose twists raise your pulse rate but keep the happy ending clearly in view. It turns a fascinating and complicated true story into a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue, leaving us with an image of the stoical American hero (or the Mexican-American hero played by a white guy, anyway) framed in a doorway with a blonde in his arms and the flag flapping behind him. I’m not being metaphorical, by the way; that’s the final shot of Mendez’s homecoming scene.”