TORONTO -- Ben Affleck’s crowd-pleasing political thriller “Argo” earned a few ovations when it played at the Telluride Film Festival last week, but, really, the screening there was just a warm-up act to its Toronto gala premiere Friday night.
“Any self-respecting Canadian of a particular age knows what happened,” said festival chief operating officer Michele Maheux, introducing the film and its actor-director Ben Affleck. “Now, through ‘Argo,’ we discover the how.”
There were plenty of self-respecting Canadians of a particular vintage seated in the cavernous Roy Thomson Hall, and they cheered loudly and often throughout the movie. “Argo” tells the story of six State Department employees who escaped the U.S. Embassy siege in Tehran in 1979 by taking refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador. CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) devised a plan to rescue them, pretending that he and the six refugees were members of a Canadian movie crew scouting desert locations in Iran for a sci-fi flick.
“Argo” is packed with Canadian references, ranging from the historical (House Speaker Tip O’Neill thanking America’s “great friend to the north” for the rescue) to cultural tidbits like Affleck’s agent schooling the hostages on how to act Canadian, noting that natives don’t pronounce the second “t” in Toronto. (We’ll be paying close attention to that detail for the remainder of our stay.)
Affleck spent a good 15 minutes introducing the movie and its ensemble, including Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin (“the sweetest guy in the world even though he’s always playing the cranky guy with the heart of gold”), John Goodman and Victor Garber, the actor Affleck described as “A) Canadian and B) the man who officiated at my wedding. I don’t know which is more impressive.” (Judging from the loving way Affleck thanked wife Jennifer Garner, we’d guess B.)
Affleck also gave several shout-outs to producers, Warner Bros. execs and a special appreciation of screenwriter Chris Terrio. “He wrote the movie and I just shot the movie he wrote,” Affleck said. “I was the reason for the occasional (mess)-up.”
At a party after the film at Terroni, a fine trattoria several blocks away, cast members chided Affleck for false modesty.
“He’s definitely in play for a director Oscar,” said Rory Cochrane, who plays one of the hostages and whose friendship with Affleck goes all the way back to their casting in Richard Linklater’s classic coming-of-age comedy “Dazed and Confused.” “Ben’s someone I think Hollywood really likes to see succeed. It’s a great story.” (Affleck on Cochrane: “He was the coolest guy in a movie full of cool guys.”)
John Goodman and Arkin, who play the Hollywood industry vets enlisted to help set up the rescue’s cover story, remained seated in nearby booths, enjoying food and company. (“It was a great job,” Goodman said, “and since most of my scenes were on the Warner Bros. studio lot, I didn’t have to go far to work.”)
Across town, just as the “Argo” party began in earnest, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” was screening at the Princess of Wales Theatre. Harvey Weinstein, whose company is behind "The Master," stopped by Terroni to work the room and extend well wishes. It's not a stretch to think that those involved with both movies will be seeing a lot of each other in the coming months.
“Argo” opens in theaters on Oct. 12.