“The closing credits on Ben Affleck’s period thriller Argo hadn’t even rolled at Friday evening’s Telluride Film Festival screening before audience members were signaling their thunderous approval,” reports Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Times, and you can sample some of that thunder via Matt Singer‘s roundup of enthusiastic tweets at Criticwire.
Whipp: “The rapturous reception afforded Argo isn’t exactly a shocker. With its insider-Hollywood plotline, the movie is almost genetically engineered to please those in the industry and festival crowds. Or as The Times‘ John Horn puts it in his Fall Film Sneaks piece on the movie: ‘Hollywood is blamed for countless societal ills and rarely receives credit for doing anything good. In Ben Affleck’s Argo, however, show business plays a starring role in a real-life Middle Eastern rescue mission that was more inventive than most movies.'”
“Argo, which opens Oct. 12, is based on real events that took place in Iran after the seizure of the American Embassy in 1979 (the details were declassified in 1997),” explains A.O. Scott in the New York Times. “The movie, Mr. Affleck’s third feature as a director (after Gone Baby Gone and The Town), is a fast-moving throwback to the politically tinged thrillers of the ’70s, with a knowing show-business satire thrown into the mix.”
It’s 1979, the Iranian Revolution is well underway, and, two months after students and militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, “the Iranians still don’t realize that six Americans managed to slip out and take refuge in the still operating Canadian Embassy.” Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter: “With his CIA colleagues at a loss to figure out how to sneak the six out of Iran, bearded, longish-haired agent Tony Mendez [Affleck], who has already extricated some of the Shah’s cronies out of the country, happens to catch a bit of Battle for the Planet of the Apes on TV and hatches a scheme both bird-brained and brilliant: He’ll approach the series’ prosthetics expert (real-life Oscar winning makeup artist John Chambers, wonderfully played by John Goodman) to help set up a phony science fiction project with sufficient plausible reality that he might be able to get the six out of Iran posing as Canadian production personnel who’d been on a location scout. Thus follows a most amusing Hollywood interlude for which the cynical remarks of a veteran producer with some time on his hands, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin at his deadpan best), set the absurdly funny tone.”
“As the story breathlessly shifts between CIA headquarters, the Canadian embassy in Iran where the Americans take refuge, and Hollywood studios…, characters often speak with the gruff cadences of Aaron Sorkin archetypes all too eager to please,” finds indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn. “Alexandre Desplat’s thundering score sometimes overplays the drama. However, Argo navigates these familiar qualities through a nice calibration of performances and breezy pace that pulls you along with the increasingly risky stakes.” It also “taps into a revisionist appeal that provides at least some audiences with the opportunity to celebrate a certifiable Jimmy Carter success story. ‘The whole country is watching you,’ Mendez is cautioned. ‘They just don’t know it.’ Much of the pleasure in Argo comes from the power of the movie itself to change that.”
At the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez praises “a stellar ensemble cast that borders on character actor porn,” and HitFix‘s Gregory Ellwood agrees that it’s “one of the better ensembles in recent memory.”
A bit of background from Anne Thompson: “The film was produced by Affleck and George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Smokehouse, who developed a script based on ‘The Master of Disguise’ by Antonio J. Mendez and Joshuah Bearman‘s 2007 Wired expose… Affleck was looking hard for the right project to do after The Town, and turned down several big studio projects. He got hold of Damages director Chris Terrio’s script and persuaded Clooney—who had also recognized a strong director-star vehicle—to let it go and produce it with him.”
Update, 9/2: “Affleck guides this fraught, multi-faceted story with the confident and un-showy skill of a man who has directed thirteen movies, not three,” writes Eric D. Snider at Movies.com. “This is mature, invigorating stuff, alternately tense, funny, stirring, and ultimately very satisfying.”
Update, 9/6: Argo is “less Costa-Gavras than Ocean’s Eleven,” writes the AV Club‘s Scott Tobias. “But on those terms, it’s mostly a rousing success.”
Updates, 9/10: “This is pitched as a patriotic, Hollywood-saves-the-day yarn, a juicy slab of dangling Oscar bait,” writes Henry Barnes for the Guardian. “But there’s a danger that its chest-beating could drown out the strength in its subtleties. The film is edited at a clip, the set design is superb and the supporting cast, including turns from Richard Kind, Kyle Chandler and Philip Baker Hall, is a who’s who of people you’d like to see more of in the movies.”
“Affleck hides an ultimately sentimental and patriotic drama inside a political thriller,” argues Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope.
“Argo is a solid but very ordinary film with patriotic and inspirational elements,” agrees Time‘s Richard Corliss.
“At this point I honestly can’t tell the difference between parodies of Hollywood dramas and the real deal,” sighs Darren Hughes.
“My only problem with the movie is that, after the opening scenes, it loses its nerve,” blogs the Boston Globe‘s Wesley Morris. “Despite all the suspense the movie generates and how much fun it is to watch and listen to, it’s safer than something about the Iranian hostage crisis should be.”
“Argo toggles deftly between scenes of almost unbearable, honestly earned tension and controlled movie-world chaos with sensitivity and a sure touch, building to a thrilling climax,” finds Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum.
More from Pete Hammond (Box Office, 5/5) and Jake Howell (Movie City News).
Updates, 9/13: “The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture will be Ben Affleck’s tense new thriller Argo,” predicts Roger Ebert. “How do I know this? Because it is the audience favorite coming out of the top-loaded opening weekend of the Toronto Film Festival. Success at Toronto has an uncanny way of predicting Academy winners; I point you to the Best Pictures of the last five years in a row: No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech and The Artist. Aside from the Oscar odds, Argo is just plain a terrific film.”
The Telegraph‘s Tim Robey agrees that “it’s gripping, urgent, funny and weighty, or weighty-ish. Even if the level of political engagement weren’t as potent as it is, managing to transform the 1979 Iran hostage crisis into the stuff of propulsive populist cinema is hardly an achievement to be sniffed at.”
Frank Bruni profiles Affleck for the New York Times.
Telluride and Toronto 2012: a guide to the coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.