Plot: What’s it about?
There’s something about films that are inspired by true events that really seem to speak to me. It’s one thing when you’re watching a film and you know it’s a work of fiction, but it’s an entirely different experience all together when you watch a film like Argo and think to yourself “this actually happened!” I had that same sort of reaction when watching The King’s Speech. Admittedly I was six years old when the events of Argo unfolded, so to say that I have no recollection of what happened is spot on. And, had it not been for this movie, I’d have probably never in a million years been tempted to do some reading and find out about what happened. But that’s why we have Hollywood. We like to be entertained, right? And what better way to entertain us than by telling us a tale of ingenuity, bravery and a little bit of luck. I often complain that Hollywood only churns out remakes, television shows and films based off comic books. Well this time they’ve gone and done it and wouldn’t you know it – it worked. Argo is a bona fide great movie and a front runner for Best Picture of the year. Let’s dive in.
In Iran in November, 1979 some extremists storm the U.S. Embassy and overtake it. They take 52 members hostage but have let six men and women escape. These are the six key players in the film and they find refuge with the Canadian Embassy under the watchful eye of Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). This crisis is being scoured in the United States as these six men and women will surely be killed if they’re caught. What to do? CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the idea of making a “fake” movie that’s looking for locations. Their plan is to sell this to the Iranians, go in and then leave with a “Canadian” film crew that’s composed of the six missing men and women. It’s so crazy it just might work. The down side is that if it doesn’t work, not only will the hostages be executed, but the already tense relations between Iran and the United States will be compromised. Let’s make a movie!
If you’ve ever seen Wag the Dog, a fictionalized version of what happened here, then that’s about as much as I can compare it to in terms of what they were trying to do. The story was based on true events so as I said in my opening paragraph – this happened. What filmmaker Ben Affleck has managed to do here is craft a taut, tense film that’s relentless from beginning to end. There’s an all-start ensemble cast of characters with John Goodman, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston just to name a few. Everything is authentic down to the belt buckles and hairstyles, to boot. There are too many negative images of the FBI and CIA out there, so it’s nice and refreshing to know that, even at one particular moment in time, our Government was capable of a plan like this and managed to make it work. As for the film, well it doesn’t get much better as the 120 minutes will fly by before you know it. Highly Recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Granted, there’s a bit more footage in this extended cut, but the video quality is the exact same as the previous Blu-ray. Though there is certainly some mixed media in the film, Argo looks just as good as any new to Blu-ray movie should. The 2.40:1 AVC HD image contains a mix of handheld footage, some archival footage (a very young Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel are seen on TV) and we get a feel for what it was like in the late 70’s. Detail is second to none, we can make out the individual hairs in Affleck’s beard. Contrast and black levels work off one another as it makes for a very solid image. The overall tone of the Iran sequence seems to be a bit cold and corporate and some of the interior scenes seem to be a bit on the cooked side. Still, Argo looks as good as I was expecting. It’s a solid transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
Like the video, the audio quality is exactly the same as the previous cut. What could have probably sounded good in mono sounds amazingly better in a DTS HD Master Audio sound mix. The opening scene features an angry Iranian mob, there are explosions, gun shots and everything in between. The LFE get some extra play here which really helps the soundtrack earn its keep. Dialogue is at the heart of this movie, though, and it’s never compromised – not once. The front channels take the burden of the mix and with surrounds chiming in to help out, it’s a very strong and solid mix from opening credits to closing. A fine effort from Warner here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Warner issued a rather decent Blu-ray around Oscar time and has now finally given us a more robust edition. But…is it worth the upgrade? Here’s what to expect in this edition.
New to this Edition
- Declassified Extended Cut – One of the main draws here is the additional ten minutes of footage edited back into the movie. Having only seen it once, I wasn’t really sure what was added and it’s nothing that really changes the film itself, but I’m always of the mindset – better to have than have not.
- Argo Declassified – This examines the history behind the story and are complimented with interviews with President Jimmy Carter, Tony Mendez, and some others involved in the event.
- Ben Affleck’s Balancing Act – This is pretty self-explanatory in that it shows how many things Affleck had to do, be it behind the camera or in front. Anyone who thinks doing what he did was easy is sorely mistaken.
- A Discussion with the Cast of Argo – We get a truncated Q & A session with key members of the cast which is actually pretty informative.
- Tony Mendez on Tony Mendez – Tony Mendez gives us an overview of his career, what the CIA was like in the 70’s and some of the challenges he had to face.
- The Istanbul Journey – We get a feel for the shoot in Turkey and some of the things that the cast and crew had to deal with while shooting abroad.
- Argo F*** Yourself – I’ve learned through first hand experience that the person you say this to has to have seen the movie. Not all have. This is where it originated.
- Theatrical Trailer – Trailer in HD.
- Knick-Knacks – Also included are some things like Mendez’s replica badge, an Argo mini poster, a map with some notes and other trinkets.
Previous Blu-ray Features
- Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account – A picture-in-picture track that’s played concurrent with the movie. This isn’t just a gimmick, though, we get many of the “six”, former President Jimmy Carter and some others as they watch the movie and comment and react. It’s a very unique feature and one that’s perfectly suited for this film. (Note: This is not available on the Extended Edition).
- Audio Commentary – Affleck and writer Chris Terrio also contribute on an audio commentary that’s fairly engaging as well. They cover the entire spectrum of the film, what it took to get it made and its resulting success. I won’t say it’s the best commentary I’ve listened to, but it’s certainly required to get the full experience of the film. (Note: This is not available on the Extended Edition).
- Rescued from Tehran: We Were There – A bit repetitive, but we don’t have too many former President’s offering up features for Blu-rays, do we?
- Absolute Authenticity – Affleck and his no holds barred approach at making the little things stand out and making the movie as authentic as possible.
- The CIA and Hollywood Connection – A clipped look at the alliance between the two and is more gloss than anything else.
- Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option – Originally aired in 2005 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the “Canadian Caper.” It’s a nice addition and again shows how authentic the film actually is.