“Argo,” Ben Affleck‘s third film as a director debuted at Telluride on Friday to rave reviews. It had its sneak peek at the filmfest in the same afternoon slot that “The Descendants” screened in last year. Like that picture, this one looks like it will be a major player in many Oscar races.
This tense thriller tinged with comedy is set against the backdrop of the revolution in 1979 Tehran. While the American embassy is overrun by fundamentalists, six diplomats escape and take refuge with the Canadian ambassador. To ferret them out of the country, the CIA cooks up a cover story that they are part of a production team scouting locations for a Hollywood movie.
Affleck, who also plays the CIA agent in charge of the operation, co-produced the picture with George Clooney and Grant Heslov who reaped a Best Picture nod for “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Script is by Chris Terrio who adapted an article in Wired magazine that detailed the escape.
He assembled a slew of award-winning talent on both sides of the camera. The cast includes Oscar champ Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine,” 2006) as a Hollywood producer, Emmy champ John Goodman as the makeup expert, Emmy winner Bryan Cranston as a fellow operative and Emmy nominee Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador.
Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain”) handled lensing while Oscar nominee William Goldenberg (“Seabiscuit,” “The Insider”) was the cutter. The 1970s costumes were done by Oscar nominee Jacqueline West (“The Social Network,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). And four-time Oscar contender Alexandre Desplat (“The King’s Speech,” “The Queen”) did the score.
Scott Feinberg, who covers all things awards for The Hollywood Reporter, wrote: “The film manages to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller (‘We did suicide missions in the Army that had better odds than this’), a laugh-out-loud comedy (‘You’re worried about the Ayatollah? Try the WGA!’) and a genuine tearjerker. This is in large part because of the strong work of everyone in its large ensemble.”
Pete Hammond (Deadline) was equally enthusiastic: “The film not only works as a suspense thriller, it also has strong comedic elements thanks to the Hollywood angle, especially with the jaded producer played by Arkin (‘If I am going to make a fake movie, it better be a fake hit!’) and John Goodman who plays Oscar winning make up artist John Chambers who played a key role in setting up the ruse for Mendez.”
And Jeff Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) said: “It’s smart and absorbing for first two-thirds to three-quarters, but it’s the suspenseful final act that brings it home. Argo delivers superb period detail all the way through — technology, cars, clothes, haircuts, everything.”