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Argo (2012)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/19/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/22/2013

Argo available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 2/19!

"No respect!" was the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield's catch-phrase. This became, of course, an ironic affectation, as he was highly regarded in the field of stand up comedy. (Although I don't think critics ever cared for his movies.) No, an example of someone who gets no respect is Ben Affleck. Despite coming across as a likeable guy and having appeared in some good movies, Affleck is often written off as a no talent hack. To make matters worse, he is constantly being seen as a second fiddle to his Good Will Hunting writing partner Matt Damon. Even after directing two good movies, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Hollywood would only give him passing kudos. This has all changed with Affleck's latest directorial outing, Argo...almost. While the film has been nominated for and has won, many major awards, Affleck did not get an Oscar nomination for Best Director. Is this yet another display of that lack of respect or is there something truly wrong with the movie?

Argo opens with a history lesson about the government of Iran and settles in on 1979, when the deposed Shah fled the country and was granted asylum in the United States. The fact that the U.S. took in a man who was seen as a tyrant angered the Iranian people and they stormed the American embassy, taking most of the staff hostage. Six employees -- Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Lijek (Clea Duvall), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham), Joe Stafford (Scott McNairy), Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishe), and Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane) -- are able to sneak out onto the street and seek refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). When word reaches the CIA that the six are safe, but need to get out of the country as quickly as possible, several plans are suggested. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the craziest one. Working with John Chambers (John Goodman), a CIA contact in Hollywood, Mendez proposes that the six be made to look like a crew scouting for movie locations. In order for the operation to look legitimate, lest any probing questions be asked, Mendez approaches movie producer Lester Siegel about finding a script and setting up a fake production office. They settle on "Argo", a science-fiction film which needs desert locales. As crazy as the play sounds, Mendez flies into Tehran and begins to prep the six on the plan. However, the Iranian government has been going through the files recovered from the embassy and they may realize that some employees are missing.

Despite the fact that there are plenty of good original scripts out there (trust me), the trend of "true story" movies shows no signs of slowing. Of course, some of these are interesting or inspiring tales, so there's nothing wrong with adapting them into films. Many of these movies trot out tags like "Based on a true story" or "Inspired by actual events". The box art for Argo sports the phrase "Based on the Declassified True Story". What makes Director Ben Affleck's movie different is that he and his crew have worked diligently to make the film as close to the true story as possible. While I'm sure some liberties were taken here and there, the main characters all represent/have the same name people from real life and we see photos in the closing credits that show how the actors were made to look as close to the real people as possible, with the exception of Tate Donovan's character, who was older looking in real life. The sets and clothing all look authentic, and Affleck even elected to open the film with Warner Bros. logo from the 70s.

The mark of a good docudrama is its ability to draw you into a story which you already know. The opening history lesson on Iran offered some facts which were new to me, but although I was quite young when the hostage crisis occurred, I still remember it. Thus, I knew that the embassy was going to be overtaken in the opening scenes, yet Affleck is able to create a sense of real tension here. Knowing that you don't want to exhaust the audience, from there, Affleck and Writer Chris Terrio change the tone of the film. The scenes with John Goodman and Alan Arkin are quite humorous, as they lampoon both Hollywood and politics. This break is well-timed, as the tension is ramped back up for the last third of the film. The well-structured script, which wisely side-steps any strong political views, is boosted by the engaging acting going on here. Affleck has done serious roles before, but this may be his most serious, as Mendez is never allowed to lower his guard or show any levity. All of the actors portraying the "houseguests" deliver strong performances, especially Scoot McNairy as the one who is the most vocal with doubts about the plan.

Argo is a solid piece of filmmaking. While I can't say that I "loved" the movie (it's a little too stoic to be the kind of movie I'm going to watch over and over again), I would definitely put it up there with Apollo 13 as a real-life story which uses confident filmmaking and expert craftsmanship to draw you into the reality of the story, ensuring that you get caught up in it and feel suspense, even if you know how the true story ended. Affleck has certainly matured as a filmmaker, surpassing some of the directors who has worked with in the past, and deserves to be applauded for his work.

Argo offers a great cameo in the "Argo" casting on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. As an artistic touch, Affleck has added a touch of grain to the image and toned down any bright colors -- this helps to achieve that look of a movie form the 70s. The level of detail is very good and the image never looks soft. The depth is good as well, as the characters are nicely separated from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and effects. There's nothing retro about this track, as we get nice examples of stereo and surround effects throughout. The opening surround us with the sounds of the demonstrators, creating a claustrophobic feel. The same goes for a scene in the bazaar. The finale provides good subwoofer action, as well as more detailed surround effects.

The Argo Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Actor Ben Affleck and Writer Chris Terrio. The viewer can choose to watch the film using the "Eyewitness Account" mode which offers picture-in-picture interviews with the likes of the real Tony Mendez and Jimmy Carter, who discuss the real-life situations. (For me, while the picture was fine, I couldn't get the audio to work on this feature.) Some of these same interviews (with audio intact) are offered in "Rescued from Tehran: We Were There" (17 minutes), where we hear from those involved in the hostage crisis. Affleck talks about his attention to detail and how he strived to make things as real as possible in "Argo: Absolute Authenticity" (11 minutes). We also hear from members of the art department here. "Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection" (6 minutes) offers more details on the real-life John Chambers, the man who served as Tony's link to show business. "Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option" (47 minutes) is a documentary which offers details of the hostage crisis and contains interviews with those who escaped from the embassy.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.