Ben Affleck’s career has been as turbulent and dramatic as they come. In his first decade he was championed as a rising young actor and celebrated as the Oscar-winning screenwriter (shared with his childhood best friend Matt Damon) of Good Will Hunting, then ridiculed as a pretty face in Michael Bay’s action spectacles and written off after a string of box-office failures. His response was to turn his back on playing the movie star and remake himself as an artist, taking on more demanding roles (such as playing B-movie actor turned TV star George Reeves in Hollywoodland) and moving behind the camera to direct the acclaimed Gone Baby Gone and The Town.
Those films reminded us that Affleck was smart, talented, and driven but it took Argo, his third film as a director, to turn that talent into popular success. The real-life drama about the stranger-than-fiction rescue of the six Americans who escaped the U.S. Embassy in Iran when it was stormed in 1980 took a few liberties with the historical record to create a nail-biter of an escape thriller. It earned Affleck a Best Director award from the Director’s Guild of America, Best Director and Best Picture Golden Globes, an award for the ensemble cast from the Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA wins for Best Picture and Best Director. While Affleck was left out of the Best Director Oscar nominations, Argo went on to win the Best Picture of the year at the Academy Awards.
Affleck also takes the lead as CIA extraction expert Tony Mendez, the man who concocted a plan that involved creating a fake Hollywood movie production as cover to the rescue of the six Americans, who were hiding out in the Canadian embassy in Tehran. Mendez is the fulcrum of the story and Affleck plays the part of the escape mastermind with the low-key savvy of a professional managing the complicated moving parts. The key to the plan was creating false identities for the Americans and putting in place a complicated cover story about scouting locations for a Hollywood picture in Iran to get them out of Iran through a public, well-guarded airport before the government realized they were even missing.