Ben Affleck's career after his and Matt Damon's shining moment at the Academy Awards when they jointly won an Oscar for writing the screenplay of Good Will Hunting (1997) was suspect for a few ignominious years when he made films like Daredevil and the now infamous Gigli (both in 2003), the latter with his paramour of the time, Jennifer Lopez.
Fortunately, Affleck has proven himself worthy when he embarked on his directing career making his first outstanding film Gone Baby Gone (2007), a thriller starring his younger brother Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan. He followed that film with another astonishingly good one, The Town (2010), another thriller in which he starred as well as directed. Now, with Argo his third feature, he continues his rise as a new talent in Hollywood, cementing his reputation as an actor/director who makes bankable cinema of meaning and worth.
Argo is an interesting hybrid of suspense and near farce, a film that a less talented director would have mucked up royally. Based on a true story, it chronicles a rescue operation that Affleck's character Tony Mendez, a CIA specialist (in rescuing hostages), concocts when six Americans escape from the storming of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 and are forced to hide out at the Canadian Ambassador's residence masquerading as his Canadian house guests.
The historical background that surrounds the film is nicely summarised in an opening voice-over so that no viewer will find herself totally uninformed. As the hostage crisis unfolds, the US State Department finds itself at loose ends as to how to rescue the six Americans who will, in the Tehran of that time, stick out like sore thumbs.
It is Mendez who dreams up the idea of pretending that the hostages had been in Iran ostensibly scouting locations for a science fiction type film à la the Star Wars trilogy which had already spawned a number of cheaper knockoffs that decade.
Working against time to create a plausible back-story for their dangerously ludicrous cover, Mendez teams up with two trusty real life Hollywood characters, Lester Siegal and John Chambers, played respectively by the two greats - Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Together, they register a fake company, sweet talk their way into Hollywood, and buy the rights to a trashy sci-fi film script titled Argo to complete their cock and bull story.
It is with consternation and real doubt that the State Department finally sanctions the rescue operation, and the film with Affleck's skilled direction moves smoothly between the comedic absurdity of the Hollywood farce that is essential in establishing the existence of the fake film and the deadly serious predicament of the refugees as the Iranian militia draws closer to their hiding place.
Argo is one of those rare films, based on a true story, that actually succeeds in maintaining suspense even while most of the viewers have guessed the probable outcome. That is good story-telling at its best.
One can only hope that Affleck, like Clint Eastwood, will be around acting and directing for a long while to come. If
his first three films are any indicators, his career ought to be a fine one.