Monday, January 21, 2013

A Tale of Two Movies

 I recently saw both Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, both of which deal with  true  stories. Of the two, Zero is a much better movie in terms of filmmaking. However the politics of each movie are quite different.

And it could cost one of them an oscar.

Argo is based, very loosely, on the 1979 Iranian revolt which resulted in the American embassy being attacked and over 50 Americans taken hostage. Six however escaped to the Canadian Embassy. A CIA agent came up with a plan to pose as a Canadian film producer and rescued the 6 who were with the Canadian ambassador.

The truth, from a Canadian angle, is that most of the movie was made up. In fact if you look at wickipedia and other sources, they all agree. Some of the characters are made up and much of what happens in the movie -- didn't happen. The ending in particular wherein Iranian police race to catch the 6 was complete fiction. All 6 left Iran (posing as Canadians) without incident.

In my mind, it's not a bad movie but I don't think it deserved so many awards and nominations.

But let's look at Zero Dark Thirty which also is based on a true story  -- how they found Osama bin Laden. This film is based on much detail and reality, far more than Argo would even begin with. It follows one woman (who was/is real) as she put together pieces of the puzzle with others through the use of torture and many other methods. It's a strong movie and not for the weak-minded.

However controversy hit the movie just as it opened. Washington people including  Sentators John McLain, Dianne Feinstein and others slammed it on the grounds that America did not torture anyone.This followed others to condemn the movie.

However, Zero was far more researched than most films and the writer never backed off what he had accumulated from the CIA and other sources.

When the nominations for the Academy Awards came up, Argo got more nominations than Zero.

So what's the reason;

Rumours suggest that Warners want Ben to be the new Clint Eastwood, who's now aging and ready to quit being the best actor/director around. And certainly most actors would vote for Ben as he's "one of us"Ben was not voted for Best Director however.

But neither was Zero. Katherine Bigelow, in my mind is a great director while Ben is a "working director" and really won't ever be great. Bigelow learned a lot from former husband James Cameron of Avatar, Terminator and Titanic.

It also shows another issue;  John Ford, a 6-times oscar winner said, in the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance  "When fact becomes legend, print the legend." 

Americans like heroic stories and Argo is that, you walk out of the theater happy that America won. However Zero is more complicated; they get bin Laden but also in the process it deals with much more complicated issues, right and wrong and somewhere in between heroic and uncertainty. At the end, it offers no real answers and I guess some people didn't like that. 

It's also odd that while both movies are nominated, the two directors were "snubbed" as they say in Hollywood.

Bottom line it becomes a choice between a movie about choices and consequences and a movie about a happy ending.

In the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: " You want the truth... you can't handle the truth".