Argo directed by Ben Affleck, written by Chris Terrio and Tony Mendez (Warner Bros. Pictures, GK Films, Smoke House, R, 120 minutes)

Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman.

Transformers

I’m not sure why some movies receive high praise. I remember the year when everyone couldn’t get enough of Transformers. It seemed to be the ultimate movie; it satisfied action aficionados; it had enough narrative quality to hold the attention of critics.

But when I saw Transformers, I was severely disappointed. With bad acting, unimpressive graphics, and a poor script, I found nothing redeemable from the film.

Transformers seems to offer an intriguing analog to another film receiving high praise from this current award season, Argo.

When Hollywood Meets an International Crisis

Set in Tehran, Iran, during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, Argo tells the story of a C.I.A. operative, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), charged with the rescue of six escaped American diplomats harbored in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor (Victor Garber).

While Americans observe the Iranian hostage crisis in horror, the US State Department plans exfiltration of these sheltered diplomats. No strategies, however, have any legs. Finally, Mendez conjures a far-fetched but best-case scenario of the horrible options.

He suggests a cover story that the escaped diplomats are Canadian filmmakers searching for exotic locations for a sci-fi film named Argo.

With the help of his supervisor, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), Mendez teams up with a Hollywood make-up artist and C.I.A. contact, John Chambers (John Goodman) and film producer, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Together, they establish a fake film studio, stage press releases, and create buzz around a big, up-and-coming sci-fi film. With credibility established for the involute cover story, Mendez sets out for Tehran.

Iran operates with deep unrest and Mendez’s plan carries much risk, but to him, there’s no other option.

Feeling Self-Important

Argo is an enjoyable film; I am glad to have seen it. But, I am surprised at its impressive run during award season. Affleck directs the film well; his acting is adequate-to-good. The writing holds much suspense but never amazes. In short, Argo succeeds for what it is, a big-budget suspense film.

But as an Oscar front-runner? Not as much.

So why does it get so much critical acclaim? My best guess? Hollywood likes feeling important and there’s nothing more significant than playing a crucial role in an international crisis. Argo gives Hollywood an opportunity to pat itself on the back. As an industry, it was flexible and allowed itself to become a cover story for an unbelievably dangerous mission.

Much like Transformers when it first came out, Argo seems to suffer from overselling expectations. When you hear a movie is really good, and you see it winning awards, you expect the moon from what you see. Sadly, Argo doesn’t deliver the moon.

Of course, Argo is a much better movie than Transformers, but it is nowhere near as good as some of its competitors for the Best Picture Oscar.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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  • Dan O.

    Good review. Affleck’s direction worked and I like how he included so much detail and fun into the 70’s look, but the last act just didn’t have that suspense going for me as much as I would have liked. I think it sucks more just because you know what the true story is, and you sort of lose all of the tension this movie is striving for so much.

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