When I initially reviewed 2012’s Argo, I did so a few days before the Academy Awards. I noted that if the film could win the Best Picture trophy, it needed to buck daunting history because it received a Best Picture nomination but Ben Affleck failed to get a nod as Best Director.
Until that point, only three movies ever earned Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. Two of these instances – 1927’s Wings and 1932’s Grand Hotel - occurred so early in Oscar history that one could view them as anomalies.
This left the creators of Argo with one inspiration: 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. It snagged the Best Picture Oscar although Bruce Beresford failed to get a Best Director nomination.
As it happened, Argo did beat the odds and win Best Picture. A six years later, 2018’s Green Book joined it, as that flick’s director joined Ben Affleck among the un-nominated.
Did Argo deserve to win Best Picture? Perhaps.
Of the nine nominees, it reains arguably my favorite. Django Unchained might top it, but it’s a tight race.
Argo takes place after revolutionaries took over the American embassy in Iran circa late 1979. Set mostly in 1980, we see how a six staff members escape and find refuge at the Canadian embassy.
Fraught with peril, this situation can’t last forever, so US executives need to find a way to extricate them. CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) invents a plan in which a film crew for a fictitious movie will go Iran to scout locations and manage to get the hidden Americans out unharmed. We follow all of the threads that occur as the plan – codenamed “Argo” after the fake flick – attempts to work its magic.
Argo creates a “truth is stranger than fiction” scenario. If it hadn’t actually happened, I doubt one would swallow it as believable. The story’s so goofy that when I saw trailers, I wondered if it might’ve been a spoof.
But the events really happened – well, most of them, at least. Argo has encountered some controversy because of its historical liberties, and I can understand those complaints, especially during the film’s third act, which creates an “escape from Iran” situation with much more drama and tension than actually occurred.
Although I sometimes find myself bothered by fabrications of this sort, in this case, I’m fine with the changes. Honestly, if Argo had followed the real events, the third act would’ve been a snoozer.
While the actual operation came with ample danger, it didn’t play out in the film’s nail-biting manner, and an accurate depiction would’ve seemed awfully dull.
So I’ll cut Affleck and company a break, especially since a) the climax is exciting and b) the rest of the movie’s so enjoyable. Actually, the third act might be the weakest, if just because it seems a bit trite.
Argo trots out every thriller/horror movie convention one can cite in its pursuit of a “nick of time” escape story. If the film offers anything new in that vein, I didn’t see it, so we get a batch of old standbys here.
Nonetheless, they work, and in a weird way, the potential trite nature of the climax seems appropriate; shouldn’t a movie partially about Hollywood clichés feature some of its own? And since these elements give us the desired sense of drama and tension, I won’t complain.
I do prefer the first two acts and think those represent the strongest filmmaking on display. While Affleck embraces thriller tropes in the third act, he manages an impressive display of genre-balancing during the first two-thirds. Argo gives us comedy, drama, parody and thriller, often all at once as it cuts among its dueling storylines.
Those first two acts represent the reason Affleck should’ve gotten a Best Director nomination. He boasts such a deft touch as he skips from one genre to another that he merits more recognition than the Academy gave him. Argo often threatens to collapse under all the balls it juggles, but Affleck keeps it on the positive side of the ledger.
Affleck receives criticism for his work as an actor, but I don’t think he deserves it. No, he’s not a great thespian – and given the stellar nature of the film’s supporting cast, he threatens to look worse by comparison – but I think Affleck plays Mendez in a more than competent manner. He helps ground the film and acts as a good motivator for much of the action.
While I can’t call Argo a flawless flick, I think it works well much of the time. As a mix of competing genres, it delivers a lively, enjoyable take on history.
Footnote: stick through the end credits for some archival materials and quotes from President Jimmy Carter. Once the movie’s title appears, though, we get no additional content.
Argo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Overall, the image looked solid.
Sharpness usually fared well. A few wide shots displayed a little softness, but that wasn’t a notable flaw – and it seemed in keeping with the movie’s “period” style of photography.
I witnessed no issues with shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes failed to appear. In terms of print defects, the opening credits showed some intentional dirt but that was it, as the rest of the flick seemed clean. Appropriate grain ran through the movie.
Colors favored stylized – and often muted – tones. With 1970s films like All the President’s Men as inspirations, I expected restrained hues, and the movie delivered. With some general overlays – blues, tans – in play, I felt the colors represented the filmmaking choices well.
Blacks appeared dark and rich, while shadows appeared clear and smooth. The transfer provided a nice take on the film.
I felt more impressed than I expected with the relatively active DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Argo. The soundscape opened up quite a lot more than I figured it would, as it provided a lot of good ambient material.
For instance, scenes in streets or at airports or at parties bustled with activity. Segments that offered more logical “action emphasis” – such as some with gunfire or planes or vehicles – formed a lively environment that utilized the five channels in a satisfying manner.
Audio quality always pleased. Music was rich and full, while effects came across as accurate and dynamic, and we got positive bass response throughout the film.
Speech remained natural and distinctive. I doubt you’ll want to use Argo to demo your home theater, but I thought it created a more involving soundscape than I would’ve anticipated.
This two-disc package includes both the movie’s theatrical version (2:00:22) as well as an Extended Edition (2:09:35). What does that extra nine minutes entail?
The vast majority of the added material relates to Tony’s family and home life. This footage makes Tony a bit more dimensional and sympathetic, but it also slows the film’s pace, as these moments don’t really connect to the main plot all that well.
As such, the theatrical version remains probably the preferred rendition of the tale. That said, the Extended does nothing wrong, and it becomes an interesting alternative.
This set includes the same extras as the single-disc edition along with new ones, and on Disc One, we open with an audio commentary from director/actor Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio. Only alongside the theatrical cut, both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at historical elements, story/character areas, sets and locations, period details and visual effects, cast and performances, editing, and some other areas.
When we worked just as an actor, Affleck tended to be an irreverent hoot. Now that he’s older and shooting his own movies, he’s become more subdued as a commentator, but he still manages to create useful discussions.
Affleck does most of the work here – Terrio doesn’t have a ton to say – and we get a good overview of the production. While I admit I miss the funnier Affleck, I still find a lot to like about this chat.
One disappointment: Affleck and Terrio don’t say much about the historical liberties they took, though Affleck does defend an anachronistic musical choice. Too bad he picks the wrong one: Affleck rebuts criticism that he shouldn’t have used Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away” but says nothing about the Rolling Stones’ “Little T&A”.
The VH song came out in March 1979, well before the movie’s events, but the Stones tune didn’t emerge until the summer of 1981. (Oh, and Affleck also incorrectly defends the decrepit state of the Hollywood sign, as he claims it hadn’t been renovated yet, though those renovations actually were done by late 1978.)
For a picture-in-picture piece, we go to Eyewitness Account. Also an option only with the theatrical cut, this purports to allow us to “relive the takeover of the US Embassy in November 1979 and the daring rescue missions in January 1980 through the eyes of those who lived it.”
This means we get info from retired CIA operative Tony Mendez, President Jimmy Carter, “house guests” Mark Lijek, Bob Anders, Cora Lijek, Kathy Stafford, and Lee Schatz, USMC retired/Iranian hostage Al Golacinski, and former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and wife Patricia. They discuss their experiences as they relate to the events depicted in the film.
It’s the first-hand nature of “Eyewitness” that makes it so valuable. We hear from no one not directly connected to the circumstances, and they deliver excellent information.
My only gripe comes from the occasional dead spots, but the Blu-ray’s producers makes it easy to skip past those with your remote’s arrows, so you’re not stuck with them. “Eyewitness” provides a terrific look at the facts behind the movie’s depiction.
Four featurettes follow. Rescued from Tehran: We Were There lasts 16 minutes, 51 seconds and includes info from Mendez, Carter, Anders, Mark and Cora Lijek, Stafford, Schatz, and Ken Taylor.
In essence, “Tehran” acts as an abbreviated version of “Eyewitness”, as it focuses on first-person thoughts about the movie’s events.
That doesn’t make “Tehran” a waste of time if you already screened “Eyewitness”, as it includes some unique details. It’s not as valuable as the picture-in-picture feature, but it gives us some good additional information,
With the 11-minute, 19-second Absolute Authenticity, we hear from Affleck, Terrio, executive producer Chay Carter, production designer Sharon Seymour, producer Grant Heslov, costume designer Jacqueline West, rigging chief lighting technician Marc Marino, picture car coordinator Ted Moser, executive producer Graham King and actors Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishe, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, and Tate Donovan.
The featurette looks at research, sets and locations, costumes and period details. We find some interesting details about the pains taken to recreate the film’s era, but the tone is a little too self-congratulatory.
The CIA and the Hollywood Connection runs six minutes, five seconds and delivers material from Affleck, Mendez, Terrio, Heslov, and actor John Goodman. This one gives us additional thoughts about the “fake movie” side of the operation. It’s short but reasonably effective.
Finally, we locate Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option. It occupies 46 minutes, 34 seconds with details from Anders, Mark and Cora Lijek, Ken and Patricia Taylor, Mendez, All the Shah’s Men author Stephen Kinzer, former Empress of Iran Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi, US State Department Iran Country Director Henry Precht, The Canadian Caper co-author Claude Adams, former Canadian Prime Minster Joe Clark, former Canadian Embassy Chief Immigration Officer/Senior First Secretary John Sheardown and wife Zena, former Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Flora MacDonald, Hollywood makeup artist Bob Sidell, and former Canadian Embassy First Secretary Roger Lucy.
As one might expect, “Option” gives us another take on the events that inspired Argo. Inevitably, some of the facts become redundant after all the other materials, but I like the inclusion of additional interview subjects/perspectives, and the inclusion of period footage contributes to the piece as well. “Option” becomes another valuable program.
New materials appear on Disc Two, where we launch with Argo Declassified, an 11-minute, 34-second featurette that includes notes from Mendez, Jimmy Carter, Heslov, Terrio, former CIA Director George Tenet and executive producers Joshuah Bearman and David Klawans.
The program looks at the 1997 declassification of the operation, aspects of the real story, and its gradual path to the screen. Some of this echoes earlier materials, but it becomes a good overview.
Ben Affleck’s Balancing Act runs 15 minutes, 32 seconds and involves Affleck, Heslov, Terrio, producer George Clooney, editor William Goldenberg, and composer Alexandre Desplat.
While I thought “Act” would look at Affleck’s dual role as actor and director, instead it covers aspects of the movie’s stories and attempts to meld comedy, drama and thriller elements. This becomes a nice dive into these structural and tonal components.
Next comes Argo F*ck Yourself, a one-minute, 28-second snippet with a slew of cast and crew who utter the movie’s signature line. It’s cute and that’s about it, though it may pack more uses of the “F-word” in 88 seconds than ever before committed to film.
A Discussion with the Cast of Argo spans 10 minutes, 17 seconds and involvdes Affleck, Goodman, Cranston, Duvall, Cochrane, and actor Alan Arkin. We mostly get stories from the shoot, and some of those offer fun insights.
In particular, I like Cranston’s observations on their visit to CIA headquarters. The tone stays pretty fluffy, but we get a few fun anecdotes.
With Tony Mendez on Tony Mendez, we get an 11-minute, 26-second reel in which the former CIA agent discusses his experiences, mostly connected to the Argo story. Mendez offers some good details,
In addition to the film’s trailer, we conclude with The Istanbul Journey, an eight-minute, 35-second featurette that brings notes from Affleck, Chay Carter, Cochrane, Heslov, McNairy, Terrio, Denham, Bishe, Seymour, Donovan, Duvall, and actor Victor Garber.
As implied by the title, we learn about the location shoot in Turkey. Though it occasionally feels a little like a tourism promo, it offers enough useful notes to make it worth a look.
This package also brings some non-disc based materials. We find a mini-poster for the phony sci-fi Argo movie as well as a map with scene notes, a replica CIA ID badge, and a behind the scenes photo book.
All are fun, but the book becomes the most valuable of the bunch. It mixes pictures and text to turn into a good addition.
Despite some liberties, Argo delivers a good piece of historical drama. It melds a mix of genres in a bright, brisk manner that seems nearly effortless and turns into a high-quality effort. The Blu-ray offers very nice picture and audio along with a strong set of supplements.
Objectively, this two-disc Argo becomes the most satisfying Blu-ray version of the movie on the market, but a purse strings question arises. I managed to get an inexpensive copy from an online store, but in general, it sells for a good $15 to $20 more than the standard one-disc edition.
If you really love the movie, it’s probably worth the extra money. If not, the standard Blu-ray should suffice. The Extended Cut doesn’t improve the film, and though I like the 2-disc release’s exclusive bonus materials, the one-disc already comes with a lot of good information.
So regard this 2-disc set as a nice little luxury. If you don’t mind the added expense, it’s a good set to own.
To rate this film, visit the prior review of ARGO