Warner Bros. / 2012 / 120 mins / R
In 1979, the CIA staged one of the most elaborate rescue missions ever without firing a single shot. After six Americans are trapped in the Canadian embassy when everything goes to hell in Tehran, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) takes it upon himself to sneak the hostages out. He did so under the guise of producing a fake science fiction epic dubbed Argo. They went so far as to set up ties with Hollywood producers, buy a script, stage a script read and even produce some storyboards. All of this was essential for providing Tony's perfect cover as a scouting agent.
Argo seems like the premise for an action comedy and it doesn't shy away from the absurdity of the master plan. The whole concept of the Argo movie is pretty campy with goofy costumes and fantastical artwork. There is also a running gag about the go-to answer the producers give on the meaning of the title. As much as I love the meta nature of creating a fake film, it's really only harped on for the first act as the second turns into the thrilling rescue mission of the American hostages. Fortunately, this is when this film goes from great to extraordinary.
Director Ben Affleck perfectly ratchets up the tensions when the hostages are placed in extreme jeopardy. The opening scene where an angry mob raids the American embassy is brilliantly shot with matching footage of the real event. You can feel the fear as those within the building scramble to erase all evidence that would lead to their execution before trying to escape. Some of them make it out while the others are blindfolded and taken hostage with an uncertain fate. It's an intense and unforgettable moment of feeling outnumbered and helpless.
That intensity carries throughout the film as Tony navigates the six hostages out of the country in a white-hot political environment where anything could go wrong. He drives slowly through a mob of angry citizens banging on their van, screaming and shouting for revolution. They encounter an angry elder furious for one of them taking pictures in their fictional role as a location scout. And the grittiest of all them is the final test of making it through airport security.
All this makes for a fantastic thriller, sans the violent action sequences. It manages to be an entertaining venture not because the plan goes awry, but for the mere fact that it could go awry. We spend enough time with these characters and in the setting that we really want them to make it out alive. It's a unique type of thriller that hooks you more for its characters and plotting than for showy set pieces (even though the locations are beautifully shot). You just can't take your eyes off it for a single second.
The 1080p transfer looks stunningly beautiful for all the scenes that were shot in Turkey. The Blu-ray picture truly enhances every little detail that director Ben Affleck put into every set. The DTS-HD Master audio also does its job as splendidly with plenty of detailed sound effects in crowded settings.
If you'd like to know more about the actual events the film was based on, this Blu-ray comes packed with supplemental materials.
For starters, there is a picture-in-picture commentary with overlapping interviews from key characters of the event such as Tony Mendez and Jimmy Carter. It's incredibly informative to give you this kind of real-life perspective while watching the film. There is also a regular audio commentary with director Ben Affleck if you're more interested in the actual production.
But if you're looking for a more in-depth look at the true Argo story, the featurette "Rescued from Tehran" focuses more on the event with plenty of interviews from Tony Mendez to the houses guests. And there is also a 46-minute documentary that focuses on the Canadian government's involvement with this delicate situation.
There are two great featurettes on the production of Argo; one with Affleck discussing the research and detail of creating a 1979 atmosphere and another about the extent of creating a fake movie.
Finishing up the disc is a few short features on the cast, some more info on Tony Mendez and shooting on location in Turkey.
Argo is the perfect embodiment of a top-notch thriller, melding late-70's movie-making and international politics. Affleck has certainly flexed his directing muscles once again with a pulse-pounding tone and one of the most unique rescue missions where you really don't want to see running-and-gunning. It's an intriguing drama that feels just as real as the events it was based on, making for a high recommendation.