A couple of years ago, I had the idea to watch a bunch of Oscar-winning films for the sake of a blog (sound familiar?). My plan then was far less ambitious in many ways: I’d just start with the most recent one and work my way back until I got bored of it. Well, this was where I began. (Let’s not mention how many films it took me to get bored.) (It was five.)
Since I generally try to avoid too many plot spoilers before I watch a film (and I’m fortunate enough, even with the most popular ones, to remain largely in the dark about the most basic information about these movies), I tend to enter a film pretty blind. Watching this the first time through, I struggled a bit to follow what actually happened. Most of what I know about Iran, even now, comes from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
So, yeah, I knew that the Iran hostage crisis was a thing, but didn’t understand the circumstances leading up to it or how it played out. That’s not exactly the story here – instead, it’s the story of six people who escaped the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was taken over by an angry mob (what they’re angry about we aren’t privileged to learn). Seems like maybe not the best idea, wandering out into the crowd, but who am I to judge?
They take refuge at the Canadian Embassy, and since their presence is a secret, cue Ben Affleck to rescue them. He plays a CIA agent (who in real life is Latino, but let’s not worry about that). Also, he has a back story about wanting to be a good father or something, which somehow makes him seem even more wooden. Is this how he acts in every movie? I’ve seen robots with greater emotional range (Lost in Space robot, I’m looking at you).
Fortunately, he directs a better film than he stars in, with a nice late 70s effect to the film itself. There are some interesting moments where multiple things are happening at one time – and though it’s a pretty common filmmaking tool, it was successful here in conveying a lot of information in short batches. Suspense on the whole is well done here – who would have guessed sitting on a plane could be so fraught with tension?
On the other hand, there are definitely moments of manufactured drama. The Pentagon has called off the mission? Screw you, I’m doing it anyway! (Which sounds nice in theory, but not when you need cover from people back home to carry out the plan.) There’s an unnecessary scene featuring Affleck and a bottle of whiskey, torn by indecision(?) as he contemplates his mission. At least, you assume this, based on the fact that practically every other movie has featured the same type of scene.
Here I am, a few years later, and apparently on track to finish something I started for once in my life. Watching so many movies, one after another, makes you start to wonder what differentiates one from another. I mean, what makes this a Best Picture? I ask myself that a lot, both on and off this screen. I keep hoping that I’ll come up with an answer.
First Time Watching? Actually no.
Final Verdict: The best bad idea we have