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*This refers to the Blu-Ray version*
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Argo is a 2012 thriller directed by Ben Affleck. It won the Best Picture Oscar in 2013.
It tells the story of the real life American embassy hostage crisis in 1979 where revolutionaries broke into the embassy and took the government workers hostage. Six of them managed to escape by the skin of their teeth and make their way to the Canadian ambassador's house who is a friend of one of them. However, the demonstrators soon work out that they are missing these individuals and so begins a race against time to get these individuals out of Iran before they are found and seemingly inevitably and publicly killed.
Heading up the American CIA operation to get them back to the US is CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck). His plan for getting them all out of Iran is where the genius of this story lies. After coming up with and subsequently dismissing a number of ideas for how best to smuggle them out of the country, Mendez presents the most audacious of plans - The Hollywood Option. Mendez uses his close relationship with legendary movie prosthetics and visual make-up designer John Chambers (John Goodman) to create a premise for a fake science fiction film called Argo. Chambers already has a neat sideline in providing reliable prosthetics and effects for undercover CIA operations, but the plan that Mendez comes with is something altogether bigger and more risky.
Essentially Mendez wants to travel over to Iran and persuade the 'hostages' to pose as location scouts for this fake movie under new identities. Mendez seems fully confident that this idea will work but knows that a lot of background work has to be done in Hollywood in order to make it look authentic, it has to appear to pretty much everyone that the film is real, not just any security services they may come across on their route out of Iran, but also in Hollywood itself. So sketches are drawn, casting is done, articles published in Variety and then Mendez goes out to Iran to meet the escapees themselves.......
From here on in, an already tense film goes up a notch as he tries to persuade the hostages of the potential of the plan and then prepare them for it to be undertaken.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this film. I cannot say that I really knew
Affleck directs the film in a very mannered and respectful way. The crux of the story is so barmy (they do say that life is stranger than fiction) that in the wrong hands it could have been a insincere and emotionless farce. However, somehow Affleck and the writer Chris Terrio take that central story and wrap it in authentic acting, dialogue and visuals and surprisingly effective humour and create something which is not just engrossing but incredibly tense and nervewrecking, especially towards the end.
A great deal of work has obviously gone into how the film looks. All too often, films like this can look like the costume and set designers went into a vintage warehouse and picked up anything that looked vaguely 1970's. Here it is much more restrained and actually incredibly beige, even the filter that most of it is filmed through.
In his leading role, Affleck is very restrained and unshowy and there are some great supporting performances from Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and the largely unknown cast who play the 'hostages'.
The way that characters engage with each other and behave in the various precarious situations that they find themselves in is incredibly realistic. There are no action heroes here, yes they may be government employees, but they behave in ways and have the same fears and anxieties that any human would have in this situation and having to embark on such an ambitious plan. The dialogue is realistic and naturalistic which helps you engage with their plight even more. Ultimately there are not going to be any massively dramatic action sequences with helicopters coming in and swooping them back to safety, they know that they will have to act on their brains and wits alone which makes it all the more tense.
Picture-In-Picture: Eyewitness Account - Feature length - playing the film with in-picture comments by those firectly involved in the real0life story.
Rescued from Tehran@ We Were There - 16 minutes - talking heads from the people directly involved in the true story of the crisis
Behind the Scenes: Argo - Absolute Authenticity - 11 minutes - talking to Affleck and the art department about the way that the film looked as he wanted to 'root the audience in the period' through replication. It talks about filming locations (in particular that fact that they needed to film in Turkey rather than Iran and the work that went into that,), costume design and contains comparisons to actual footage from the events.
Short Feature: Argo: The CIA and Hollywood Connection - 6 minutes - talks about the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood in the real life events interspersed with clips from the film and interviews with cast and crew
Documentary: Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option - 44 minutes - the real-life story of the background to the story and also the context within Iran.
There are two different versions of the film that you can watch - the theatrical version (which is the only one that I have seen) and the extended cut which I cannot comment on and is 9 minutes longer. You can also watch the film with a commentary by Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio.
The Blu-Ray also comes with an option to have an Ultraviolet copy of the film for your computer, tablet or Smartphone, however it needs to be redeemed by 4th March 2015.
In conclusion, if you want to watch an extremely well-made tense thriller, which focuses on people rather than gunfights and explosions you can do a lot worse than to sit down and watch this.
In my mind Argo cements Ben Affleck as one of the best directors of the moment. Here he conveys the true story of 6 members of staff who managed to escape the US embassy in Iran, shortly before it was stormed by the military who were demanding the return of a former prime minister from America. The film is shot beautifully and manages to convey the violence and tension of the situation without sensationalising it, or reducing it to the point where the audience feels they're rubber necking. The cast are all very capable and deliver believable performances. The casting director also deserves special praise for finding actors who do look the spitting image of the people they are portraying. There are moments of humour and moments of pure, unadulterated nail biting tension. I guarantee that for the last twenty minutes you'll want to look away, but won't be able to.