TORONTO -- Alan Arkin knew he wanted to act by his 5th birthday. He dragged his mother to the Crossroads of the World on Sunset Boulevard when he was 11 so he could sign up for a specious organization called The Screen Children’s Guild. Nothing came of that, but the 78-year-old actor has been making a pretty good living for nearly half a century. Arkin has seen a thing or two, and he has a few thoughts about why movies connect with audiences.
Sitting in the back row of the cavernous Roy Thomson Hall Theatre for the Toronto Film Festival’s gala screening of Ben Affleck’s politically tinged thriller “Argo,” Arkin watched and listened while the audience cheered the story. And he noticed something he says nobody else has picked up on.
“Very often one of the most important aspects of a movie will be subliminal, and with this, one of the most beautiful aspects of it, besides the wonderful thing it does for Canadian-American relations, is that it shows an extraordinarily inventive solution to what could have been an amazingly incendiary world conflagration,” Arkin told us during a leisurely interview. “And it’s done by invention that has no violence whatsoever. That was the solution. Just ingenuity and creativity.”
“Argo” follows the real-life story of six State Department employees who escaped the U.S. Embassy siege in Tehran in 1979 by finding 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. Arkin plays a veteran Hollywood producer who helps set up the particulars of the bogus movie project.
“There’s something deeply loving about it, and I can only attribute this to Ben,” Arkin says. “With all the aroma and bookends of violence, there’s something deeply comforting and loving about the relationships between all of the principals. Again, it’s subtle, but very present.”
And, to Arkin, reminiscent of the film for which he won his Academy Award -- “Little Miss Sunshine.”
“And again, with that, nobody talked about it. The fact that what the entire movie’s about is it’s about a bunch of people ...” Arkin stops, briefly choking up. “They’re people that don’t get along that in the end pull together because of an 8-year-old child. And the thing that makes it so potent is that it’s not stated. It’s just not. That’s what gives it its power.”