Every year, I love Oscar season because there are so many great movies to see.
But two of them caused a bit of discussion among my friends. Namely, “Argo,” that went on to win best picture, and “Zero Dark Thirty.” “Argo” dealt with a rather cool and ingenious CIA plan to rescue Americans hiding from revolutionaries in Iran by portraying the Americans as a Canadian film crew scouting for a fictitious sci-fi movie. “Zero Dark Thirty” was the story behind the capture of Osama bin Laden.
The question debated: were they dramas or docudramas?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, drama is writing intent to “portray life or character or to tell a story usually involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue.”
A docudrama is a drama deals “freely with historical events.”
To me, the answer is “yes” to both. While there may be some spoilers here, we all know how both stories ended.
Both films had an immense amount of conflict and emotion:
In “Argo,” the particularly striking mix of both was at the Iranian airport. The nervous and fearful Americans are headed toward the airplane that would take them to freedom; meanwhile the Iranian revolutionaries are beginning to discover the plan. The Americans in the guise of Canadian filmmakers must convince the gatekeepers they who they say by telling the story of the film that doesn’t exist. Although fearful, the Americans make their ruse come alive.
Masterful work by director Ben Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio, that is thrilling and moving.
“Zero Dark Thirty” also is fast-paced and nail-biting storytelling by director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, but also one of passion and struggle in showing how the United States used torture to get information about bin Laden, as well as how CIA operative Maya, played by the terrific Jessica Chastain, fights superiors in her pursuit of bin Laden. There are many wonderful scenes, but I liked the one where Maya and her rival played by Jennifer Ehle are trying to make peace over drinks at a nice restaurant. An explosion comes out of nowhere and the women are sealed as friends amid the chaos.
Both films have also been reported as being less than accurate. (See articles below) so they may be considered more docudrama if you go by the dictionary definition–That is playing freely with the historical details in the name of drama.
In the end, maybe what matters is that they are fantastic stories that moved us with compelling characters and situations, and made our hearts speed wondering what would happen next.
From “Argo” came the message of how people reveal their best when everything is at its worst, namely bravery and sacrifice.
In “Zero Dark Thirty,” what price we may pay for justice and the toll on violence not only on the victims.
As a writer, we want to move people, either through historical events or not. Bottom line, we just want to move them.