New Release: ‘Argo’
Argo get yourself an award, Ben Affleck
“You don’t have any better bad options?”
“This is the best bad option by far.”
"Argo" (Warner), the third feature from actor-turned-director Ben Affleck, was released early in October, just before the traditional roll-out of high-toned dramas and Oscar-bait showpieces gets aggressively competitive, and debuted to glowing reviews, enthusiastic audiences, and impressive box-office. Pretty good for a real-life drama about the stranger-than-fiction rescue of the six Americans who escaped capture when Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy and took American hostages. But then it’s a savvy picture that takes a few liberties with the historical record to create a nail-biter of an escape thriller.
See an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray below
It was an early Oscar favorite, then lost momentum as the season rolled ahead and competition heated up. For reasons still not clear, Ben Affleck was passed over as a Best Director nominee and even though the film snagged seven Oscar nominations – an impressive count by anyone’s standards – it seemed to have lost its luster. Then it caught its second wind: a Best Director award from the DGA, Best Director and Best Picture Golden Globes, an award for the ensemble cast from the Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA wins for Best Picture and Best Director. Now, as handicappers tip “Argo” as for the Best Picture Oscar, it arrives on disc and digital delivery less than a week before the Academy Awards.
It’s great timing for anyone trying to play catch-up before the big day, but awards hype aside, “Argo” is a terrific piece of filmmaking. Not “Zero Dark Thirty” brilliance or “Life of Pi” beauty, mind you, but a solid, well-made film with personality, humor, drama, tension, and a superb sense of time and place. Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio establish the era and the complicated history that created the Iranian situation smartly and efficiently, and Affleck seamlessly combines actual news footage with recreations that segue into the story at hand. And while I’m not convinced that the escape-movie contrivances that drive the film's final act necessary to communicate the stakes of this mad plan, there is something oddly appropriate in the way this meeting of Hollywood fakery and true-story spycraft plays out like a movie.
Affleck takes the lead as CIA agent Tony Mendez, the man who concocted a plan that involved creating a fake Hollywood movie production as cover to sneak six Americans, hiding in the Canadian embassy, out of Iran in plain sight. But while Mendez is clearly the fulcrum of the story, Affleck plays the part of the escape mastermind with all the restraint it requires, letting the others showboat in the key scenes while he hangs back, taking stock and holding it all together. Just like a director.
“"Argo" is what they used to call a crackerjack escape thriller,” agrees MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who writes that Affleck “never puts a foot wrong during the climax. It's sufficiently impressive that the viewer is apt not to notice that, while the movie's prologue provides a fair amount of historical context (some would call it hand-wringing) about how the Iranian people's irritation with the West is arguably justified, once we get to the finale, the entirety of Persia seems to have become a bunch of wild-eyed bearded homicidal maniacs. Movies being moves, that sort of thing happens.”
Blu-ray and DVD, with the 16-minute featurette “Rescued From Tehran: We Were There” featuring the real Tony Mendez, President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, and the “house guests” Mark Lijek, Bob Anders, Cora Lijek, Kathy Stafford, and Lee Schatz who were hidden in the Canadian Embassy, telling the story in their words.
The rest of the supplements are exclusive to the Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack. The most interesting and enlightening “Picture-in-Picture: Eyewitness Account,” a running audio-visual commentary track with Mendez, President Carter, Taylor, the “house guests” (as they are identified in their interview clips), even the housemaid who worked at the embassy and kept the secret. It plays a bit like a complimentary documentary, offering a personal perspective to the fictionalized presentation and in some cases correcting the dramatization with the true story, including clearing up the fiction that Mendez went rogue to force the White House into going forward. Both Mendez and Carter talk about how the President personally okayed the mission. It’s not wall-to-wall clips, but it is very effective.
Also includes the 2004 Canadian documentary “Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option,” originally produced for History Television, and the short featurettes “Argo: Absolute Authenticity” (with Affleck and his collaborators discussing the production) and “Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection” (a shorter piece that plays like a lively promotional featurette). It also contains a bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming.
Also available On Demand.
See an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray supplements after the jump. Click on “More” below.