Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Argo and The Paperboy, two historical hostage thrillers laced with pulpy period satire.
Argo tells the tale of a recently declassified CIA operation to rescue six American hostages from Iran at the onset of the country's 1979 revolution. It all sounds very serious, until agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) hatches a plan to pose as the producer of Argo, a non-existent sci-fi flick supposedly being shot in Tehran, in order to extract the hostages by passing them off as members of his film crew. The whole production makes for an amusing satire of Hollywood fakeness and Washington laziness, but when the Mendez touches down in Iran, the rescue doesn't seem to go according to plan, and suspense abounds. The Paperboy takes after another true story of prisoner and rescuer: that of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who sits on death row for cop murder, and the efforts of his fiancée and her cohorts to (rightfully or wrongfully) free him. Their plans also go awry, but in different ways—namely, an intense love affair between said fiancée (Nicole Kidman) and local reporter (Zac Efron). Much like with Argo, what starts off feeling entertainingly screwy quickly escalates to something more violent. But while both plots look promising, nothing beats Argo's CIA-meets-MGM novelty.
Affleck hasn't been very active lately, but his star power still stands. Though the rest of the cast is less A-list, most of them have a résumé of impressive performances in smaller productions or smaller roles. No complaints there, but in terms of casting, The Paperboy is a veritable powerhouse. Kidman and Cusack are as talented as they are famous; Efron and McConaughey maybe less so, but they're the kind of high-profile faces and celebrity personalities that a campy, retro romp like The Paperboy requires. And as far as the details go, Kidman wears a Southern accent much better than Affleck wears a full beard.
Advantage: The Paperboy
Argo promises plenty of government intrigue and spy-movie action. Riots, smashed windows, ski masks, firing squads, trap doors: all the trappings of a satisfying on-screen hostage situation are there. The plot to save them is so creatively simple that it feels at once brave and idiotic, amusing and terrifying—more so the latter when our worst fears are confirmed and Affleck's bluff begins to fall through. The Paperboy has political intrigue, too; it's just less international and more small-town. But its draw lies more in the emotional complications to its plot. The sex scenes in the trailer may be excessive, but superimposed as they are on other scenes, they heighten the tension latent in other, less sweaty interactions. The small-town scale makes for proximity, and that proximity—physical and emotional—makes for more of a psycho-thriller, whereas Argo's trans-national scope tends toward a political action thriller. This might come down to a matter of taste, but we think psycho-thrillers are always more fun.
Advantage: The Paperboy
Both films rely on some level of satire to ease the tension in their high-stakes storylines. Considering the gravity of its subject, Argo seems surprisingly funny. It's an understated humor, to be sure, but that's to its credit when dealing with an otherwise sensitive matter. There are some pretty golden exchanges in the trailer (see "If I'm doing a fake movie, it's gonna be a fake hit," or "This is the best bad idea we have, sir"). The comedy in The Paperboy is campier, and a little less complex. In fact, the funniest parts of the trailer come from Kidman's tawdry and awkward sexuality—her fixing the fit of her dress for maximum cleavage, her stumbling in a pink mini on her way into Efron's shack—but there's not much more humor to the film than its overall, over-the-top airs.
There are a lot of lives at risk in Argo: the hostages, their rescuers, and more vaguely, the American public at large. Objectively, there is less collateral when things go south in The Paperboy; the melodramatic black-and-white flashbacks to the scene of the murder are more entertaining than they are riveting, and only Kidman and Efron seem to be in immediate danger. But as an audience we feel closer to them than we do to the unlucky but more anonymous hostages in Argo. This is mostly Kidman's doing: she doesn't talk much, but her she's incredibly expressive in these two minutes (and when she does talk, she says captivating things like "Hillary ain't so bad, and I'm not so good"). We care about Efron's character mostly because Kidman's character does, but that's still more than we can manage for the victims who we never really get to know in Argo. Both stories seem potentially tragic (only the endings will tell), but The Paperboy more personally so.
Advantage: The Paperboy
Both films, despite their topical differences, boil down to hostage stories, and with all their stylistic similarities, our preference boils down to which hostages we care more for. If we're going to stick out 100 minutes in a movie theater in the hopes of seeing someone to safety, we'd rather it be Kidman and her beloved than Affleck and his faceless American entourage.
Winner: The Paperboy
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