ArgoRelease Date: February 19, 2013
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover
Running Time: 2:00:22
|THE FEATURE||SPECIAL FEATURES|
|Video||AVC: 1080p high definition 2.40:1||Standard and high definition|
|Audio||DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, Chinese 5.1, Spanish (Latino) 5.1, Portuguese 5.1, Thai 5.1||Dolby Digital: English 2.0|
|Subtitles||English SDH, French, Chinese, Korean, Spanish (Latino), Portuguese, Thai||Variable|
The Feature: 4/5Anti-American sentiment is at a fever pitch in the country formerly known as Persia. The exiled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who fled at the height of the Iranian Revolution and is suffering from severe medical problems, has temporarily found refuge in the United States. Iranian militants, led by the Muslim cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, are calling for the former monarch’s extradition, but the U.S. Government refuses to turn its back on the man it helped install as Iran’s supreme ruler almost 40 years ago.
Outraged over America’s longstanding support of the Shah, student protesters and activists assembled at the U.S. embassy in Iran’s capital city of Tehran manage to breach its gates on November 4, 1979, overtaking the facility and holding hostage its diplomats, office workers and security personnel. However six Americans – including Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Mark and Cora Lijek (Christopher Denham and Clea DuVall), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), and Joe and Kathy Stafford (Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishé) – manage to avoid capture, exiting from an unmonitored back door just as the rest of the building is overrun. The group eventually finds sanctuary in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), but it’s only a matter of time before Iranian forces (literally) piece things together.
As the embassy hostage crisis drags on into months with no resolution in sight, the CIA begins looking for ways to “exfil” or extract the six refugees that have been dubbed the “House Guests.” Operative Tony Mendez AKA Kevin Harkins (Ben Affleck), dissatisfied with the scenarios his colleagues are floating, comes up with an audacious plan. Calling on Hollywood makeup artist and sometime CIA contractor John Chambers (John Goodman), Mendez suggests the six Americans pose as members of a Canadian movie crew scouting locations for a science fiction film. The idea is met with some resistance, but given the lack of other feasible alternatives, Mendez is given the go-ahead to lay the necessary groundwork. Guided by veteran movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), the team selects a script (“Argo: A Science-Fantasy Adventure”), acquires office space for the shell production company, and generates enough promotional materials and trade publicity to sell the fake project as real. It’s enough to fool the casual observer, but the true test will come when Mendez is on Iranian soil with six, hastily trained Americans, each of whom will be relentlessly scrutinized by everyone from Iranian civilians to the country’s Revolutionary Guard. Even the most seasoned operative would be unnerved by the scenario, let alone inexperienced civilians; if they manage to sell their story and escape the country, it will be nothing short of a miracle.
For his third directorial effort, Ben Affleck spreads his wings, leaving his native Boston stomping grounds – featured in both “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” – for an environment significantly removed in both time and location. The new challenges hardly give him pause as he’s crafted a late-70s period piece that feels authentic down to the shag haircuts and corded communication hardware.
But beyond the film’s detailed production design, Affleck tells an engaging story with skillful pacing and tension, while also successfully deviating from expected “dramatic thriller” territory. He strikes this balance right off the bat with the quasi-animated opening sequence highlighting the history of conflicts in Iran, and again when he injects some good natured ribbing of Hollywood into the scenes with Goodman and Arkin. In less capable hands the shifts in tone could come off as distracting, if not destructive to the narrative, but all of it comes together to make for a compelling glimpse into a “you can’t make this up” moment in global politics and history.
The same enthusiasm can’t be mustered for the director’s performance as the lead, unfortunately; his low key approach doesn’t make the character seem unflappable, just oddly disengaged when it was probably controlled intensity he was after. While it doesn't undermine the film, it does stand out as an issue in otherwise seamless effort.
Which raises the question of whether the film is worthy of the 2012 Academy Award for Best Picture, especially considering some of its more high profile competition. Though the film did win for Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes (and Affleck picked up the director award to boot) I suspect the film will remain “honored to be nominated” when all is said and done. Still, this doesn’t diminish what the actor-director has accomplished. With each project he’s been able to keep viewers engaged and eager to see what he’ll do next, drawing inevitable comparisons to the likes of Clint Eastwood. Whether he’ll have the same staying power and track record as that cinematic icon only time will tell, but there’s been an impressive pattern forming over the last several years that shows no signs of fading.
Video Quality: 4.5/5Framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer features satisfyingly inky black levels, a full and uncompromised range of contrast, and a richly saturated color palette evocative of the depicted era’s still and motion picture imagery. Overall sharpness is impeccable, with a visible grain pattern that appears healthy and unmanipulated by noise reduction measures. The opening of the film does include a variety of material, like archival news footage and actual Super 8 film shot on location, which offers an interesting visual comparison of sources for those interested in such things.
Audio Quality: 4.5/5Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp, detailed and intelligible, though subtitles may need to be engaged for some of the heavier Iranian accents. Surround channels are seamless and enveloping, providing support for the score and a variety of environmental effects – crowd and office noises and the occasional helicopter flyover. Low frequencies never approach LFE territory, but the track has impressive depth and dynamic range throughout.
Special Features: 4/5Anyone interested in the true story behind the exfiltration (AKA the “Canadian Caper”) won’t be disappointed as the bonus material relays the story in a variety of ways. The other pieces – the feature-length commentary and a featurette – look at the more technical aspects of the film, making for a decently balanced set of material. A DVD and UltraViolet digital copy round out the package.
Pre-Menu Trailers: Ultraviolet (1:22, HD) and “Beautiful Creatures” (2:33, HD).
Picture-in-Picture: Eyewitness Account (2:00:22, HD) Interviews with surviving members of the House Guests, Tony Mendez, Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife Pat, former President Jimmy Carter, and many others relate the events of the Iran Hostage Crisis and Mendez’s extraction efforts.
Commentary with Ben Affleck and Screenwriter Chris Terrio: Available with both Korean and Chinese subtitles.
Rescued from Tehran: We Were There (16:51, HD): For those looking for less of a commitment, the interviews from “Eyewitness Account” are edited into a more condensed form.
Argo: Absolute Authenticity (11:19, HD) Through behind the scenes footage and interviews, the featurette highlights the production crew’s attention to detail and efforts to impart a sense of realism to the film with its design, costuming, location scouting, and more.
Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection (6:05, HD): Provides an overview of the CIA effort around “Argo,” John Chambers' work with the agency, and Tony Mendez’s professional and personal relationship with him.
Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option (46:34, SD): Produced in 2004 for Canada’s History Television, the documentary is probably the most in-depth about what actually went down with the caper, particularly with the Canadian government’s heavy involvement in the effort.
- 2.40:1, enhanced for widescreen, MPEG2 video
- English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio
- English, French and Spanish subtitles
- “Rescued from Tehran” featurette
Recap and RecommendationThe Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
Warner Home Video delivers an impressive high definition presentation for actor-director Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort, detailing the rescue of six American citizens caught up in the conflict of the Iran Hostage Crisis. The bonus material offers a good balance between historical, “what really happened” information and details about the production process. While the price of the title will inevitably drop after release day, those who especially enjoyed the film should have no reservations picking it up as soon as it hits store shelves.