Tagline: Based On A Declassified True Story
The film critic Roger Ebert, who knows as much about film as anyone, has already anointed Ben Affleck’s third directorial feature, Argo, as the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars. “How do I know this?” he asks. “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 the Academy’s favorite: namely, 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.”
Will Ebert be proved right? If the plot is anything to go by, quite possibly, seeing as we’re in “based on true events” territory, which tends to find favor with Oscar voters. On November 4, 1979, with the Iranian revolution in full swing, militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. Somehow, six Americans got away and made it to the Canadian ambassador’s home. The odds are that these hardy souls were only postponing a likely death, so the CIA “exfiltration” expert Tony Mendez concocted an audacious plan to rescue them. What does he have up his sleeve? Only the ludicrous notion that he’ll be able to convince the Iranian powers that be that the half-dozen escapees are actually part of a film crew, who are scouting locations for a sci-fi movie called – yes! – Argo.
And if he didn’t already have enough on his plate making the actual movie about the fake movie (albeit as part of a true story), Ben Affleck plays Mendez, which might also appeal to Oscar, who like to reward multi-tasking. Argo has certainly appealed to the critics as Ebert is not just in the business of making predictions but is a fan, labeling it “just plain a terrific film.” Entertainment Weekly concludes that “Argo is never less than wildly entertaining, but a major part of its power is that it so ominously captures the kickoff to the world we’re in now.” And The Daily Telegraph kicks off its review by noting that “Three films into his directing career, and Ben Affleck shows no sign of getting less good or slacking off with those serious mainstream movie ambitions. He’s set himself a thornily complex task in Argo and comes out with flying colors: it’s gripping, urgent, funny and weighty.” TIME’s Richard Corliss is a rare voice of dissent, yet still believes that “Argo is a solid but very ordinary film with patriotic and inspirational elements,” and acknowledges “that, yes, the Academy should probably save Affleck an aisle seat next Feb. 24.”