Who knew the same guy who brought us Gigli and was actively involved in the To the Wonder debacle would deliver the best film of TIFF so far.
Ben Affleck is only serviceable as an actor, but as a director has been improving consistently: Gone Baby Gone was a remarkable start and The Town unveiled a very particular sensibility. In Argo (United States), Affleck reveals a knack for suspense, even though the film is based on well known historic events. Set during the Iran hostage crisis of 1980, the film chronicles the efforts of the CIA to extract six government officials hiding at the residence of the Canadian ambassador in Teheran, Ken Taylor. If captured, the most likely outcome would be their deaths.
After all sensible ideas are discarded, the most likely to succeed is the more outlandish one: Pretend to be a Canadian film crew scouting for locations (everybody knows that regardless the political climate, Hollywood is always looking to save a buck.)
The film is as engrossing as entertaining. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are phenomenal as the jaded Hollywood types (“We need to make a movie in hell.” “Universal Studios?”). Affleck picks a bunch of competent and underused TV actors (Victor Garber, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane) for supporting roles and they all deliver. The only qualm is about the agent in charge of the operation (Affleck himself), whose family drama feels grating.
According to the film, it was the CIA who decided to give all the credit to ambassador Taylor and the Canadian government. Even though our national pride takes a hit, Argo is by far the movie to beat in the upcoming Academy Awards. Four American prairie dogs trying to pass for Canadians by adding “eh” to everything they say.
Peaches Does Herself (Germany): Only die-hard fans of the performance artist could possibly tolerate. It’s not just the shock factor: Peaches’ work is repetitive and for the most part, unappealing. If you don’t know who Peaches is, stay away. One and a half male prairie dogs trapped in a female prairie dog’s body.
Dead Europe (Australia): As the latest crop of filmmakers from Down Under indicates (John Hillcoat, David Michod), they can do a particularly grim kind of drama. In this particular film, a photographer decides to visit his homeland (Greece) after decades of self-imposed exile. His trip causes his father to kill himself and unveils an alleged curse over the family, following some murky events during WWII.
Even though well told, Dead Europe is such a hopeless affair, it fails to seduce the audience. Also, the idea of a curse is pretty ridiculous outside the horror genre. Two Aussies turned into prairie dogs by gypsies.
* Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep, Phantasm) is the most candid director I have interviewed this year in TIFF. He is also the one who made me wait the longest: One full hour.