Argo has plenty of problems with regards to historical accuracies, but even when taking liberties with the story and characters, producer/director Ben Affleck highlights a story not many Americans know about and presents a suspense-thriller with greatly intense moments with a couple standout performances.
Genre(s): Drama, Suspense/Thriller
Warner Bros. | R – 120 min. – $35.99 | February 19, 2013
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Writer(s): Antonio J. Mendez (Selection from “The Master of Disguise” Novel), Joshuah Bearman (“The Great Escape” Wired Magazine Article); Chris Terrio (screenplay)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kyle Chandler
Theatrical Release Date: October 12, 2012
Features: Picture-in-Picture, Commentary, Featurettes, DVD Copy, UV Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 2
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 36.2 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 4.0/5
The movie was fake. The mission was real… well, kind of…
As I’ve said in previous reviews, the old “Based on a True Story” always sends up a red flag with just how much a movie is that or merely takes one item and stretches it out for a feature-length motion picture, In the case of Argo, although its sins are nowhere as egregious as others, like the recently released (and god-awful) The Factory, it’s not completely sinless in the liberties producer/director Ben Affleck took with the story. That being said, Argo is still a very well made, suspenseful flick. Yes, even when said suspenseful was partially manufactured.
The film opens on November 4, 1979 when armed militants storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran taking everyone inside hostage except for six Americans – Bob Anders (TATE DONOVAN), Mark and Cora Lijek (CHRISTOPHER DENHAM and CLEA DUVALL), Joe and Kathy Stafford (SCOOT MCNAIRY and KERRY BISCHE) and Lee Schatz (RORY COCHRANE) who managed to escape onto the street as the siege took place and receive shelter at the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (VICTOR GARBER).
While the two sides go back and forth over the hostages inside the Embassy, the State Department attempts to come up with a mission to extricate the six others as them being sheltered is placing the Taylors in danger and putting Canada in a difficult position which could escalate matters. CIA exfiltration operative Tony Mendez (BEN AFFLECK) is brought in by supervisor Jack O’Donnell (BRYAN CRANSTON) to hear the plans thus far but neither are even close to being optimal: one is taking them out via bicycles, the other as Canadian agriculturalists in country to examine the crops… but being November, there are none to examine.
After this meeting Mendez comes up with his own crazy plan: a cover story that the seven, himself included, are a part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for an upcoming science fiction adventure entitled. However, every good cover story needs to hold up and he enlists the help of make-up effects man John Chambers (JOHN GOODMAN) who is not only an Oscar-winner but has done work with the CIA creating disguises. He also receives help from a renowned film producer named Lester Siegel (ALAN ARKIN) to find the right script, publicize it for the entertainment world to see and establishing a production studio. After scouring many scripts, Mendez comes across one entitled “Argo” which perfectly fits their needs.
Time is not on his side as Mendez makes his way to Tehran, making a stop in Turkey at the Iranian embassy to submit the movie proposal, posing as the film’s producer, because inside the besieged embassy, kids work tirelessly in sweatshop conditions piecing together pictures of workers including the escaped six, thus the CIA fears when the hostage takers realize people are missing, they will comb the streets to hunt them down. When Mendez finally arrives, he meets with the six and the movie plan isn’t exactly sitting well, though they quickly realize they don’t have much of a choice to go along with it and ultimately trust Mendez to carry the plan out against all odds.
Back in D.C., chaos ensues when somebody in the White House decides to cancel to mission… the day before its set to unfold. Mendez is told by O’Donnell to back down and is suggested by Ken Taylor to just not show up the next morning thus more or less abandoning them. However, Mendez knows he must go through with it knowing the danger the six face and ready or not, lets O’Donnell know it’s going through despite the operation being more or less shut down, including the important production office which was set up as a validation contact point.
Argo then heads into a third act which is the most controversial. At this point if you want to skip, you might want to move to the next session as there are spoilers ahead.
Alright, with that out of the way, the final sequence finds Mendez and the six headed to airport facing much tension first trying to get their tickets which needed to be cleared in D.C. then going through no less than three checkpoints including the final with the all suspicious Revolutionary Guard. This is where the movie really departs from reality. True enough, I’m sure the seven of them were tense and indeed the Revolutionary Guard was checking passengers but according to testimony they were primarily focused on native Iranians leaving rather than the Westerners. In the movie, the seven are scrutinized before making it out after the validation call.
Then you get the runway scene where the seven are safely on the plane but are discovered by the Iranians and there’s a runway chase before the plan gets liftoff and eventually out of Iranian airspace. In truth, none of that happened, although there was celebration once they were officially out of Iran…
Minor points they might be, and I do like that the movie’s basis is more than a kernel compared with other “Inspired/Based on” type stories, but when a good chunk of the suspense never actually happened, it does make me ponder some. That being said, the film itself is well made with a couple great performances, one by Alan Arkin who was nominated for portraying a character who apparently never exists (though I suppose it could be a composite) and the other by John Goodman once again playing the quirky side character who provides comic relief. For his part, Ben Affleck is suitable enough in the main role and the actors playing the six escapees are good enough, though are thin in terms of character development (to be fair, getting more info is not only unnecessary but would’ve made for a bloated film as well).
Now, Ben Affleck as a director has proven to be one hell of a filmmaker. With a successful first outing with the underrated/underappreciated Gone Baby Gone, Affleck followed it up with the intense, taut and well made crime-drama, The Town and now with Best Picture winner Argo, being 3 for 3, he’s on a role. I don’t think he’s a master filmmaker compared with others nor does he really stack up with the greats, but he’s shown that he’s got the talent and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Despite its problems with accuracy, Argo is still a solid suspense-thriller with some intense moments and showcasing a story that, although declassified 15+ years ago, is one not many know about. Given this weaker than usual year, to me anyway, I don’t have a problem saying Argo was one of the best.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 4.0/5
This initial release comes with a matted slip cover. Inside are a standard DVD Copy and a slip with a code for the UltraViolet Digital Copy.
Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account – In the first new PiP feature I’ve encountered in years, you get to relive the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in November 1979 and the daring rescue mission in January 1980 through the eyes of those who lived it. It’s an interesting feature where you get to hear from the real-life folks including main protagonist, Tony Mendez, the house guests, the Canadian diplomats and even former President Jimmy Carter. As good as it is, this is also sparse at times. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Audio Commentary – Actor/Producer/Director Ben Affleck and Screenwriter Chris Terrio sit down for an informative and entertaining commentary primarily going over the filmmaking aspects of the movie. If you ever listened to Affleck’s commentary on The Town, you know he’s an engaging fellow and adding Terrio to the mix allows stories to be bounced around. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Rescued from Tehran: We Were There (16:51; HD) – Mendez, President Carter and the houseguests recount the real-life harrowing experience they endured. This features some of the same sound-bites in the PiP feature with some new items to expand on the story.
Argo: Absolute Authenticity (11:19; HD) – From characters to heart-stopping action, Ben Affleck’s eye and ear for hard-hitting realism and attention to exacting detail has become his signature as an A-list filmmaker (this was the menu description). This featurette focuses on replicating as close as possible to the time era from the set design to the wardrobe. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection (6:05; HD) – Ben Affleck and former CIA agent Tony Mendez give a firsthand view of the actual documents and cover story used to create the phony movie Argo that had all of Hollywood believing in. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option (46:34; SD) commemorates the 25th anniversary of the “Canadian Caper,” taking us back to the starting affair through the direct testimony of the Americans who found sanctuary at the Canadian embassy in Tehran and the Canadians who risked their own safety to shelter their closest neighbors. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Preview – Beautiful Creatures
VIDEO – 4.25/5
Argo arrives on Blu-ray presented in its original theatrical 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio. The 1080p transfer here is, as with most of Warner’s newer releases, impressive. Outside of the opening log which is made to look distressed, the picture is mostly pristine and only deviates when the director and his DP wanted it to appear a bit more aged. The colors are well balanced but nothing overly bright as to keep with the era with lots of cream colors in some scenes and darker ones in others. The detail levels also look excellent showing off every little detail be it in the close-ups shots are more distant ones (outside of archive footage which is more distressed and not as crisp).
AUDIO – 4.5/5
Save for the riot/protest scenes during the beginning, this is a mostly dialogue-driven movie, although the dialogue is often delivered in a hurried, sometimes frantic manor. During those scenes, everything is relegated to the center and front channels with ambient noises relegated to the rear speakers. The depth does pick up during those protest scenes which help drive the chaos and scariness of the situation those hostages were in. Alexandre Desplant’s minimalistic score is well done and shows off through the surrounds quite nicely.
OVERALL – 4.25/5
Overall, Argo has plenty of problems with regards to historical accuracies, but even when taking liberties with the story and characters, producer/director Ben Affleck highlights a story not many Americans know about and presents a suspense-thriller with greatly intense moments with a couple standout performances. As far as the Blu-ray is concerned, both the video and audio transfers are well done and for a Warner Brothers release, there’s a fair amount of features to peruse.