Blu-ray Review: Argo

STUDIO: Warner | DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck | CAST: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Chris Messina, Richard Kind
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/19/2013 | PRICE: DVD $29.98, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $35.99
BONUSES: commentary, PIP function, featurettes, more
SPECS: R | 120 min. | Drama-thriller | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English, Spanish and French subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

The drama-thriller Argo directed by and starring Ben Affleck (The Company Men) is based on a declassified true story about a fascinating covert operation to rescue a half-dozen Americans hiding out in the middle of Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. It’s a tremendously entertaining and engrossing Hollywood film, certainly one of the best of 2012.

Argo opens with six American men and women slip out of the U.S. embassy during the initial hostage chaos and finding refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber, Titanic). Snapping into action in the U.S., CIA “ex-filtration” specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a plan to rescue them: With the help of his Hollywood contacts and the Canadian government, he concocts a plan for the production of a fake movie entitled “Argo,” a sci-fi space film with a Middle Eastern feel. The cover of a movie having been established, the “houseguests” will pose as a Canadian production team scouting locations for the movie in Tehran, and when they’re done scouting, they’ll head to the airport with their newly manufactured passports and simply fly away. It’s such a nutty idea, this “Hollywood Option” (as it was known), that it just might work. But there’s a lot that could to wrong…

Argo movie scene

Ben Affleck oversees an escape plan for hostages in Iran in Argo.

Production values across the board are excellent, all of which support Argo’s primary strengths, which begin with Affleck’s precise, measured direction, which is always perfectly modulated to the mood of the material its presenting, be it drama, exposition, suspense or action. Affleck’s roster of players, which includes Kyle Chndler (Super 8), Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad), and Chris Messina (Greenberg) as the government suits and Alan Arkin (The Change-Up) and John Goodman (Trouble with the Curve) as the Hollywooders behind the movie-within-the-movie, give effective, down-played readings with nary a grandstanding or scene-stealing scene among them. And just as he keeps his cast on the straight and narrow for the narrative, Affleck the leading man offers what might be his most unadorned performance as a government man with deadly serious job to perform. It’s clear that Affleck the filmmaker and his team know how amazing their story is, and they expertly serve its potential with intelligence, steadiness and realism. Even the scenes that we’ve seen in government movies a zillion times—men sitting around conference room tables making decisions, agents dealing with their superiors in the hierarchy—feel fresh and real.

The audio and video presentations are both excellent. Argo’s image isn’t overly colorful—it doesn’t “pop”—but has a rather controlled, almost muted look that one associates with the Seventies. This is particularly effective in the outdoor sequences set in the Middle East, as well as the in the interior of the bustling Tehran Airport. The audio quality of the dialogue is crisp but subtle, making the more pronounced audio sequences—the raid of the embassy, a venture into the outdoor bazaar and, again, the airport—all the more effective.

The Blu-ray’s smart collection of supplements provides the perfect complement to the feature. Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio’s commentary covers the production concisely if a bit dryly, with real insight into the physical production as well as analyses of how choices were made while adapting the real-life story for the movies. Affleck talks up all the other bonuses during his commentary (in addition to praising the discs’ producers), beginning with the “Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account” function, which features the actual people involved in the event offering their take on what really happened as it all unspools on screen. Joining them on the PIP are the real Mendez and other government figures, as well as former President Jimmy Carter, who’s also on hand for a featurette that looks at the CIA/Hollywood connection. It would probably enough to have a couple of Blu-ray supplements featuring a former president, but there’s even more, including a production piece on how the 1970s was authenticated on screen and a 2005 TV doc celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “Canadian Caper.  Sure, there’s a little repetition, but overall, the Argo supplements genuinely add to Argo the film, and that’s the point.

Argo and Affleck have already won a slew of Golden Globes, as well as awards from the DGA, SAG, Producers Guild and other organizations, and both the film and its maker/star are sure to pick up some more at the Academy Awards. Though Affleck isn’t in the running for a director’s Oscar (undoubtedly the year’s most high-publicized snub), there’s a strong chance he’ll be standing behind the podium accepting a producer’s award for Best Picture.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.