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Argo (Blu-ray Review)

27 Feb, 2013 By: John Latchem

Box Office $130.14 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray combo
Rated ‘R’ for language and some violent images.
Stars Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate
Donovan, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Clea DuVall.

The genius of Argo isn’t just that it’s a taut thriller that easily deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar. Despite the life-and-death thrust of the main story, and the seriousness of the situation, this is one of the funniest movies of 2012, in a way only Hollywood can achieve when it turns the lens back on itself.

Director Ben Affleck, who also stars, sets the mood from the outset with the old-school Warner Bros. logo flying at the screen. If he’s going to make a movie about the 1970s, he might as well make it seem like it was made then, too.

This is the typical Hollywood story: a plot based on true events, embellished just enough for the sake of drama, that exists only due to the vagaries of real life intersecting in ways no screenwriter would ever conceive.

Affleck meticulously establishes the story of the six Americans who escape the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis by hiding out with the Canadian ambassador. To get them out, CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) hits upon the idea to create a fake movie and claim they’re a Canadian film crew scouting locations.

So he flies to Hollywood to recruit two producers (Alan Arkin and John Goodman, both great) to pull off his scheme. For it to work, Mendez has to set up a company to produce a fake movie and convince the press that it’s all real, all to provide cover for that potential moment when an Iranian guard glances over a falsified passport and wonders what they’re doing in the country to begin with.

It all comes together in a perfect balance of drama, tension and comic relief. If the stakes weren’t so dire, or based in reality, I suspect the same basic story would have been made as a farce (akin to the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, perhaps). The film mines a lot of gold shredding the phoniness of Hollywood while simultaneously celebrating its extravagance.

The only part where Affleck overplays his hand is an opening sequence that tries to give some historical context to the storming of the U.S. embassy by suggesting the Iranian people were wronged by America’s support of the Shah, which on its face would seem to detract from the film’s central idea that the six Americans needed to be rescued (which a mostly American target audience is going to root for anyway).

Most of the extras on the Blu-ray focus on the inherently fascinating true story that inspired the film. One is an hourlong documentary from a few years ago, while most of the material consists of fresh interviews with those involved in what came to be known as the Canadian Caper (this includes not only the real Mendez, but also Jimmy Carter, who was president at the time). They get their own featurette, but also appear during a picture-in-picture mode that runs throughout the film to provide insight into the scenes as they happen.

In addition, Affleck and writer Chris Terrio provide a good commentary about how they turned the real event into the stuff of Hollywood legend.

If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth picking up the Target exclusive Blu-ray with three additional behind-the-scenes featurettes, totaling about 30 minutes. They include a great interview with the real Mendez, a discussion with the entire cast, and a featurette about filming in Istanbul, which, between Argo, Taken 2 and Skyfall, proved to be a popular setting for thrillers last year.

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