“Argo” is now firmly established as an Oscar frontrunner after a rousing reception at the Toronto film festival. The last five Best Picture winners all unspooled here and this third film by actor turned director Ben Affleck checks a lot of the same boxes.
“Argo” is a deft thriller set against the backdrop of the revolution in 1979 Tehran. When 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.
The film came to Toronto fresh from a sneak peek at Telluride that had visitors to that high altitude town swooning with delight. Not surprisingly, the Canadian audience ate up the homegrown references. Academy members may well respond to the positive portrayal of Hollywood in the picture which will be released on Oct. 12.
Affleck plays the CIA agent in charge of the operation and could reap his first acting bid as well as a directing nom. He co-produced with George Clooney and Grant Heslov who earned a Best Picture nod for “Good Night, and Good Luck.” The top-notch script is by Chris Terrio who adapted an article in Wired magazine that detailed the escape.
Affleck 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 (“Breaking Bad”) as a fellow operative and Emmy nominee Victor Garber as the Canadian ambassador. Of this quartet, Arkin has the showiest role and could easily pick up an Oscar bookend.
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.