What's the greatest trick Ben Affleck ever pulled off? Making moviegoers almost forget that he was ever associated with those two monstrosities to begin with. After 2003, Affleck laid low for a few years, eventually garnering praise for two successful stints behind the camera, in 2005's "Gone Baby Gone" and 2010's "The Town." After all the bad reviews and tabloid schlock (that is, when he was still going out with J-Lo), both movies helped remind audiences why Affleck was admired in the first place (and why he won a Best Screenplay Academy Award back in 1997). Now, with "Argo," a film that he both directs and stars in, Affleck may finally be coming full circle, turning "Gigli" and "Daredevil" into two small footnotes of an otherwise remarkable filmmaking career.
Based on a true story, "Argo" takes place during the infamous Iranian Hostage Crisis, where 52 Americans were held captive after citizens of Iran stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran. However, during the attack, six Americans were able to escape, eventually hiding out in the home of a Canadian ambassador. Of course this small group still had to figure out a way to get out of Iran without being captured, tortured or killed, which is where the CIA and agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) come in. In order to smuggle the six out of the country, Mendez concocted a plan to have the group pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science-fiction movie (yes, the CIA actually OK'd this mission in real life, going so far as to set up a phony production company in California).
As I mentioned before, while this movie may be based on a true story, the moments of anxiety and frustration that the six were feeling -- a fear that at any second, someone may end up barging into the ambassador's home and executing them -- were brilliantly adapted and packaged into a grainy '70s-style story that's perfect for the big screen. (And when I say '70s-style, I mean it: right down to the costumes, the soundtrack -- they somehow had the money to pay for the rights to Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" -- and the old Warner Bros. Logo, which shows up during the film's opening credits.) Other "Argo' highlights include Alan Arkin's hilarious take on a big-shot Hollywood producer, Bryan Cranston's decidedly un-Walter White-esque performance as CIA boss Jack O'Donnell and John Goodman as Oscar-winning movie makeup artist John Chambers.
But, again, the credit for this movie goes to Ben Affleck. Not only did he make a film that will likely be in Oscar contention -- and one that will attract a swath of mainstream moviegoers -- he did something few movie stars have ever been able to pull off: turn their career around after suffering potentially crippling setbacks. At this point, Affleck's career is like an inverted bell curve: he started things out high with an Oscar win, dipped heavily in the early aughts with several bombs, then made a comeback by directing three highly entertaining movies a few years later.
I kept thinking about that inverted bell curve during the screening, and the moment Affleck began to swing things back in his favor. It came at a point in the film where his character, Tony, is attempting to pitch the far fetched sci-fi film crew story to the higher-ups at the State Department. As he stood there, clad in disco-era threads and a shaggy Bee Gees 'do, I imagined him doing something similar right after 2003, trying to convince a bunch of disinterested studio executives, that yes, he's a good filmmaker, and yes, he knows what he's doing. Well, if "Argo" is the final point in Ben Affleck's presentation, he should have no problem winning the argument.
"Argo" hits theaters October 12.