Affleck at height of powers with latest thriller

MATT LAWREY AT THE MOVIES
Last updated 10:55 02/11/2012
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Like most people, I’m a sucker for a comeback.

People who shine, crash and then somehow drag themselves off the canvas and return to glory are hard not to like, and right now one of the most likable people in Hollywood is Ben Affleck.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Affleck and his best mate Matt Damon became overnight superstars when they won the Academy Award for best original screenplay for their 1997 film Good Will Hunting.

The pair, who also starred in the film, went from being no-name Boston actors to two of the biggest stars around.

Affleck appeared in a bunch of big budget hits and was involved with a string of his leading ladies before suffering a serious case of career speed wobbles that led to a bunch of flops, some serious drinking and, one assumes, a fair bit of soul searching.

Luckily for moviegoers, Affleck decided to radically redirect his career and in 2007 triumphantly returned to cinemas on the other side of the camera as the director of Gone Baby Gone.

Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, the film was one of the best movies of the year and one of the best crime films of its decade.

In 2010 Affleck returned to the director’s chair with The Town.

For the first time he appeared both behind and in front of the camera and wowed critics and audiences alike as both the film’s biggest star and its director.

Two short years later and Affleck is back again pulling both acting and directing shifts in Argo (M).

Based on the true story of CIA agent Tony Mendez’s audacious rescue of half a dozen Americans from Tehran during the Iranian revolution, Argo opens in 1979 with the US Embassy being overrun by armed students who famously took anyone unlucky enough to be inside hostage.

Unbeknown to the angry, gun-wielding, Stars and Stripes-burning mob, six members of the Embassy managed to escape and were given refuge by the Canadian Ambassador and his wife in their home.

The less you know about how Mendez got them out the better but believe me when I tell you that if the film wasn’t based on fact, most people would criticise it for being too farfetched.

The reason this sensational story isn’t better known is that Mendez’s mission was kept a secret until President Bill Clinton declassified it in 1997.

Argo is well made, well acted, well shot and very entertaining. Given what is going down in the Middle East right now and next week’s US Presidential election, it is also remarkably timely and serves as a useful beginner’s guide to why Iran is so screwed up.

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Affleck admirably dials back the dramatics to play Mendez and gives us a low-key character with the weight of the world on his shoulders, a beard, a bad haircut and few reasons to smile.

In fact, so restrained is his performance, I suspect that on a few occasions he is actually guilty of under-acting.

The same can’t be said of John Goodman and Alan Arkin who gleefully provide the tense film with some much needed light relief. Bryan Cranston, meanwhile, does excellent work as Mendez’s CIA handler.

The film’s look is as late 1970s-early 1980s as you can get and Turkey does a good job standing in for Iran.
Argo will appeal to anyone who enjoys a ripping yarn and in particular moviegoers with an interest in late 20th century history and the ways it connects with today.

Bottom line: Really good.

- Nelson

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