Ben Affleck returns both behind and in front of the lens for his third feature film Argo. This time he leaves his comfort zone of Boston for a historical drama that takes place in Iran. Argo has been received by most as a well-made drama that makes good use of its assembled talent, but does the story hold up as well as say Gone Baby Gone or The Town? Not a chance. Argo is a decent drama at best, relying too much on its most under-used players to carry the film.
Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is a CIA agent that is faced with the difficult task of helping six Americans escape from a now-revolting Iran. The time is 1980 and what follows is a historical dramatization of one of the most important declassified ops in the history of the CIA.
The story follows Mendez as he attempts to smuggle the Americans out of Iran by acting as a film crew making a new science fiction film titled Argo. The collaboration between the CIA and some of Hollywood’s best and brightest at the time, along with the involvement of Canada makes for one of the biggest international team-ups to withhold peace without the use of violent force.
Ben Affleck directs Argo with a perfect eye for recreating the look and feel of the 1980’s by way of character costume design and set design. From the opening retro Warner Bros. logo; Argo looks like a film pulled directly from 1980. Affleck also structures the story around that, sparing the action and instead settling for heavy-hitting drama that increases the tension with each new scene.
Argo is a great example of Affleck stretching his talent as a director, because until now he’s mostly stuck to filming gritty crime dramas in his hometown of Boston. And that might be why Argo feels like his weakest effort yet. I’m inclined to say that in the hands of anyone else Argo might have stuck with me a little bit more, but seeing Affleck’s name attached had me expecting something much better and perhaps that’s not fair of me.
Affleck is such a well-rounded director, rarely dropping the ball when it comes to delivering layered performances from his actors and an all-around direction that can only be described as both visually pleasing and almost always centralized. Argo keeps those same directional traits, but ditches the layered performances in exchange for a couple of bright comedic performances and a half dozen dull and completely forgettable dramatic performances.
John Goodman and Alan Arkin steal the film during their brief, but much needed moments on screen, while Ben Affleck, Scoot McNairy, Bryan Cranston and everyone else on the dramatic side of the film tend to give dependable, but flat performances. This is because of the film’s subject matter and Affleck’s dedication to keeping it feeling as real as possible. I don’t blame him for making something accurate and less Hollywoodized, but that doesn’t make for an engaging film as much as it makes for a boring one.
Argo has been taking a lot of Oscar predictions by storm and I’m simply left scratching my head asking why. Gone Baby Gone and The Town are perfect examples of Oscar-worthy films. Argo is simply a decent drama that mostly gets by on its performances and Affleck’s concentrated direction. There’s nothing about it that jumps off the screen and sucks you in. It just works as a good history lesson, but not much of anything else.
Argo comes to Blu-Ray with a sturdy 1080p transfer that can mostly be described as on-track and rarely inexcusable. The standard definition footage sprinkled throughout rarely becomes an eyesore, because all of the high definition material is finely structured with layered grain, intricate detail and a wide batch of colors, ranging from the destructive and exotic colors of Iran to the cool and almost boring-looking colors of the CIA HQ back in America. Another well-balanced transfer from WB.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is dialogue-driven, but still something that makes good use of all five channels. The scenes that take place in the crowded cities are some of the best, because the audio is mixed in a way where sound is coming at you from all directions almost all of the time. It helps heighten the sense of dread running through all of the central characters minds.
Here’s a detailed list of the bonus material found in this combo pack:
- Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account (HD): A very detailed picture-in-picture that comes loaded with interviews and first-hand descriptions of the real-life events that this film was inspired by. Very descriptive and informative if you’re into learning more about the remarkable story that helped make this film.
- Audio Commentary by Director Ben Affleck and Writer Chris Terrio
- Rescued From Tehran: We Were There (HD): A 17 minute feature that recounts the actual events from the film, featuring the actual house guests as well as Mendez and President Carter.
- Absolute Authenticity (HD): A focused piece on Affleck trying to make the film as authentic as possible. He succeeded.
- The CIA and Hollywood Connection (HD): A look at the connection between Hollywood and the CIA discussed with Goodman, Affleck, Mendez and others. Mostly full of clips from the film.
- Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option (SD): A documentary from 2005 that details the entire events.
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
Argo isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not a very great one. It’s good, but it struggles being anything more than that. Ben Affleck knows how to direct just about anything under the sun, but he’s clearly better when he sticks to his Boston settings. I applaud him for attempting to step outside of his comfort zone, but at the same time I think he should stick to what he knows, if what he knows ends up giving us films like Gone Baby Gone or The Town.
Warner Bros. packs the Blu-Ray with enough bonus content for any history buff to have a field day over, while also preserving the film’s particular look and feel in fantastic fashion. Argo may not be my favorite film of 2012, but it’s easily one of the strongest looking releases of 2013 so far.
I assume that I’m in the minority when it comes to not liking this film, so even though I didn’t care for it at all I’d still suggest a rental for most, because virtually everyone else in the world is finding so much to love about this film and I can’t let my opinions cripple this film anymore. If you enjoyed Affleck’s previous two efforts then by all means check this one out, but just don’t go in expecting something as good.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
Argo is director Ben Affleck's weakest effort by far, but still a well-made, performance-driven historical drama.