In Argo, Ben Affleck rescues hostages from Tehran and himself from Boston. I’ve had my reservations about his pivot from romantic lead to filmmaker, but this is a major leap forward–combining his earnest desire to tell a story with more ingenious plotting, and enough bad ’70s hair to stuff a BeeGee. Its jokes at Hollywood’s expense are hypocritical, yes; but when the suspense scenes are up to code I happily take hypocrisy over the alternative–it probably lets the director sleep at night. And, by playing it old-school straight, he resists life-is-just-like-a-movie knowingness, which is the new old hat; ergo Argo is, almost perversely, a tribute to Hollywood’s endurance.
Moreover, Argo is a tribute to soft power–to a C.I.A. exfiltration that took wits and courage and drew no blood. (Affleck earns his humanitarian stripes by showing that even the Canadian ambassador’s Iranian housekeeper finds her way to safety in the end, and yet has the sang-froid to turn a neutral eye to the Iranian Revolution.) It is a strange intersection between Bush-era patriotic values that have taken an earned shellacking, and the values of a liberal creative class: the same source of extratextual tension that contributes to the intrigue on Homeland. I think this could prove to be a healthy response to the decade-long scourge known as “endless war”: one that does not mistake nuance for weakness or strength for bluster. This pragmatism, in its ideal state, was used a shiv by the president during the recent foreign-policy debate, and that stab was greeted with cheers. Because the arena was rhetorical, it drew no blood; but one can only hope the spirit behind its implementation isn’t bloodless as well.