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As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA 'exfiltration' specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
For more about Argo and the Argo Blu-ray release, see Argo Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 8, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Chris Terrio, Antonio J. Mendez, Joshuah Bearman
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan
» See full cast & crew
Argo Blu-ray Review
"The only way out of that city is the airport..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 8, 2013
Argo and filmmaker Ben Affleck are on the march. The 2013 Golden Globes: Argo, Best Motion Picture Drama, Affleck, Best Director. The 2013 BAFTA Awards: Argo, Best Film, Affleck, Best Director. Producers Guild of America Awards: Affleck, Outstanding Producer of a Motion Picture. Directors Guild of America Awards: Affleck, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Feature Film. Screen Actors Guild Awards: Argo and Affleck, Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble. Critics' Choice Awards: Affleck, Best Director. AFI Film Awards: Argo, Movie of the Year. Onwards and upwards. Argo and Affleck's ultimate destination? The 2013 Academy Awards. The problem? While the film received a Best Picture nomination, and now looks to be a much more serious contender than once projected, Affleck didn't earn a Best Director nod, and rarely do the two awards part company. The signs are aligning, though, and they all point to Argo taking home Best Picture, meaning Affleck's missing nomination is set to become one of the biggest Oscar oversights in recent memory.
But none of that really matters, does it? Awards are an honor, as most anyone in Hollywood will attest, but they're nothing more than a validation, and a subjective industry validation at that. The real question is: does Argo and, by extension, Affleck deserve such accolades and acclaim? The answer: absolutely. Not only has Affleck proved himself a legitimate filmmaking force to be reckoned with -- yet again -- Argo is a tense, expertly crafted, masterfully acted adaptation of a harrowing true story. Some have dismissed it as too slow. Others have called it overrated. I call it deserving; deserving of every nomination, award and ounce of praise it receives. I wouldn't go so far as to call it the undisputed best picture of the year, but it certainly ranks among the best.
November 4, 1979. Militant Islamists storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and take fifty-two Americans hostage. During the initial incursion, six men and women narrowly escape the embassy -- Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham) and Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishé) -- and find refuge with a Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). In the United States, the CIA scrambles to respond to the mounting crisis, and begins secretly working to extract the six American refugees. The task soon falls to CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck). Under the watchful eye of CIA supervisor Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) and the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and movie producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez devises and develops a fake film -- Argo -- to use as cover. The plan? Fly to Iran, quickly establish the legitimacy of the production, "scout" for suitable filming locations, and return safely home with his six-person "Canadian film crew."
With quiet, slowburn intensity, Argo cranks up the heat, notch by notch, with unnerving poise and precision. Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio (working from Mendez's own books and writings, among other sources) meld ensemble performance and calculated pacing to nail-biting ends, transforming an already harrowing escape story into a powerful drama brimming with terrific turns from a terrific cast. Affleck only makes one negligible misstep as an actor -- the indulgent, warmly lit half-smile he brandishes near Argo's close; a third-act staple shot in even his bleakest of films -- and one questionable decision as a director -- the down-to-the-wire takeoff, complete with back-room interrogations, the simultaneous off-site discovery of the true identities of the movie crew, gunmen rushing to stop a flight and military vehicles pursuing a plane, all of which is, ironically, a bit too Hollywood for the film Affleck is making. Otherwise, the Man Without Fear delivers in front of the camera and behind, and any suggestion to the contrary has more to do with the small but prevailing disbelief that Affleck's past cinematic sins (Gigli, Surviving Christmas, Reindeer Games, et al) are just that: a thing of the past.
Flanking Affleck is a wonderfully assembled cast with little to no interest in injecting sensationalism into a historical drama as restrained and measured as Argo. Goodman and Arkin have the most fun, and rightfully so, while Donovan and company make the most of their roles as six frightened Americans minutes away from execution or torture at every turn. Back at the CIA, Cranston is outstanding, Kyle Chandler and Chris Messina lend resistance as needed, and every performance falls into place. No one seeks out the spotlight (least of all Affleck), scene-stealing is all but off limits, and each actor retreats humbly to give others the opportunity to shine. Off screen, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, production designer Sharon Seymour and editor William Goldenberg seamlessly blend carefully recreated sets and dressed locales with archive footage and news reels to blur the line between 1979 and 2013. Argo is, at times, as close to a documentary in tone and aesthetic as a docudrama can be, and it's abundantly clear just how much attention was paid to authenticity. Argo may be at the center of the ongoing Best Picture debate, but there's little doubt that it's something special, as well as one of the standout films of 2012.
Argo Blu-ray, Video Quality
Argo features a faithful, notably filmic 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer with very little to criticize. There's some ringing to be found, sure, but nothing too severe. And the archive footage peppered throughout the film often amounts to a standard definition eyesore; forgivable considering any and every anomaly traces back to various late '70s, early '80s video sources. Which leaves us with an altogether sound, albeit purposefully subdued presentation, backed by striking desaturated colors, relatively lifelike skintones, smoky but satisfying black levels and finely tuned contrast. Grain is intact as well, without anything in the way of unevenness or errant noise, and detail is quite strong. Edges are nicely defined, textures are natural and reasonably well-resolved (even in intentionally aged or distressed shots that exhibit a fair bit of softness), and delineation is spot on. There also isn't any significant artifacting, banding, aliasing or crush on display, meaning Argo's Blu-ray debut falls perfectly in line with its theatrical presentation.
Argo Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is more involving than I anticipated, and quite a bit more aggressive. LFE output brings weight and intensity to scenes that benefit greatly from both -- enraged crowds surge, violence erupts, tear gas canisters launch with heavy thooms, gunshots thunder, angry hands pound against passing vans, security personnel give chase and airplane engines roar to life -- and every low-end effect is bolstered by raw power and presence. The rear speakers do their part too, immersing the listener in those enraged crowds, cramped vehicles and escaping planes with pinpoint directional effects, convincing pans and a fully enveloping soundfield. Despite the prevailing chaos, though, dialogue remains clean, clear and diligently prioritized at all times, without a lost or buried line of any importance. Alexandre Desplat's score rounds out the soundscape, and is privy to the same meticulous prioritization and implementation as every other element, coming together to create a lossless experience that further blurs the line between fiction and reality.
Argo Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Argo Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Argo has some stiff competition for Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards, but numerous wins at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, DGA, PGA and SGA Awards (among others), all seem to point to an Oscar. Overlooked for a Best Director nod, Affleck -- the once B-grade actor turned fully fledged star and filmmaker -- will have to settle for a producer's statue, though, as well as the knowledge that, regardless of accolades or awards, Argo has been widely and rightfully hailed as one of the best movies of 2012. Thankfully, Warner's Blu-ray release is befitting a film of Argo's caliber. With an utterly faithful video transfer, an absorbing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and a generous selection of extras (including an audio commentary, three featurettes, a documentary and a Picture in Picture track featuring President Jimmy Carter and the Hostage Crisis houseguests themselves), Argo is a must-own for any filmfan, curious cinephile or Awards completist alike.
Argo: Other Editions
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