Argo is a well-made tightly wound thriller that is raking in the box office. It is based on the true story of the rescue of six US diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. It stars Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman.
The old Hollywood star hierarchy is crumbling, the only ‘movie’ stars in this film are Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin and John Goodman, and two of them are character actors, and Ben Affleck is the director – not someone who has ‘opened’ a film in a long time. But the film got made. Mainly, I think, because Ben Affleck has proven himself as a director with The Town and Gone Baby Gone, and George Clooney is one of the producers. The film is populated with a number of great actors that are predominantly known for TV roles, such as Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Victor Garbor, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Taylor Schilling, Zeliko Ivanek and Titus Weaver. In fact, three of the actors were in Season 4 of the Glenn Close/Rose Byrne law drama, Damages, and Zeliko Ivanek won an Emmy for his role in the first season of Damages. Ben Affleck is obviously a fan of the show.
Films headlining major movie stars still get made, but are they bringing in the audiences or the money. It will be interesting to see how Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry and Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise do in comparison. The economics of the star system aside, the other reason this movie is making money is that it is a great script and it is directed well. It is like one of those wonderful 1970s political thrillers like Three Days of the Condor or All The President’s Men, mainly because it is set in the 70s, but what it most reminds me of is the last movie that I saw that I would classify a medium sized movie made for adults, the 2010 Roman Polankski film, The Ghost Writer. We get so few movies these days aimed at adults. Most films are sequels, prequels, super heroes, ‘comedies’ (I put comedies in speech marks as most of them are not funny) or remakes of foreign movies, all precisely aimed at a certain ages by marketing gurus and signed off by focus groups. The small number of films made for adult audiences are usually from the independent/art house marketing mix. You can see this in the last couple of Oscar races. The movies vying for top honours are either a blockbuster or an independent/art house. The medium sized Hollywood film is few and far between. The talent that usually made these films have followed the money and the creative opportunity and have moved to TV. So has the audience.
Enjoy Argo while you can, because unless Hollywood starts to rethink its structure, this type of movie will not come along once every two years. It will stop coming along at all.