It’s a safe bet that Ben Affleck, who directed and stars in Argo, didn’t conceive the movie as a salute to American-Canadian relations. But seeing it on my first day here in ever-lovely Toronto added an extra bounce to this nifty and suspenseful blend of Carter-era grit and La-La-Land uproariousness, since Argo does feature a heroic Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) who successfully hid a half-dozen understandably rattled U.S. embassy employees inside his Teheran official residence, during the 1979 hostage crisis.
It’s not like our northern brethren rate too many tributes at festival time even from their own filmmakers—who, at their most patriotic, are a lot likelier to opt for either glum or devilishly puckish resignation about being the Other White-Meat Country instead. But that said, the true story from which the movie derives seesawed between grim and zany in ways that might make plenty of directors more seasoned than Affleck give up on finding the right tone.
When protesters stormed our Tehran diplomatic compound and took 59 Americans hostage to retaliate for Jimmy Carter granting asylum to the deposed Shah of Iran, launching the 444-day ordeal that doomed Whatsisname’s presidency and put Ronald Reagan—him, you remember, right, kids?—in the White House, one group of junior employees from the embassy’s consular section managed to find refuge with Canadian envoy Ken Taylor. (Argo actually skips over a lot of the hair-raising time they had getting to him.) Once alerted to their whereabouts, the CIA hatched various schemes to sneak them out of the country in one piece; the nuttiest was exfiltration expert Tony Mendez’s notion of disguising them as a film company scouting locations for a terrible Star Wars rip-off named Argo. Of course, that’s the one that worked.