This weekend Ben Affleck returns to theatres as the star of the hotly anticipated Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel about a man whose life becomes a media circus when his wife (Rosamund Pike) disappears and he is the prime suspect.
It’s a welcome return for the star who once almost wore out his welcome on the big screen.
For a few years in the early 2000s, Affleck was the textbook definition of over-exposed. Between 2001 and 2004 he released a staggering 11 films, took a year off and dumped four more into theatres in 2006. Then (when the tabloids weren’t naming him Sexiest Man Alive, as People Magazine did in 2002), they were detailing the every move of the couple known as Bennifer, a mash-up of Ben and fiancée Jennifer Lopez’s high-wattage names.
You couldn’t go to a theatre, turn on a television or pick up a magazine without seeing his handsome face, and soon enough that ubiquity worked against him.
The Wall Street Journal did the math, reporting Affleck’s recognition factor jumped from 75 per cent to 82 per cent in 2003, but noted the percentage of folks who didn’t like him climbed from 12 per cent to 18 per cent.
In 2004 talent agent Patrick Whitesell told Los Angeles Times writer Kim Masters, “That kind of [media] coverage robs movie stars of their mystique.”
After that period of wild tabloid overexposure ruined his credibility with movie-goers and very nearly turned him into an industry in-joke, Affleck took some time for self reflection — “I was a little bit exhausted of myself,” he said — stopped saying ‘Yes!’ to every script that came his way and earned a second act.
In front of the camera — in movies like State of Play — and behind it, directing the critically acclaimed Gone Baby Gone, the man who had made four dozen movies since 1993 rebuilt his career, focusing on quality rather than quantity.
His next film saw him on both sides of the camera, directing, co-writing and starring in The Town, a crime drama that returned him to the scene of his first success, the Boston of Good Will Hunting. The Oscar-winning Argo followed and soon he’ll be seen as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The days of overexposure have come and gone, and he survived to have a thriving career.
“Now I think I’m kind of seen as just sort of somebody in Hollywood who works,” he says.
At the beginning of “Our Man in Tehran” we’re told, “this wasn’t a movie, it was real life.”
It’s hard not to see that as a jab at Ben Affleck & Company whose film “Argo” won Academy Awards last year for taking liberties with the story of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
“Our Man in Tehran,” the account of ambassador Ken Taylor and his Canadian peers who arranged the rescue of six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in 1980 aims to set the record straight.
There’s no mention of the Oscar winning film, just interviews with the main players, including Taylor, Minister of External Affairs Flora MacDonald, former Prime Minister Joe Clark, reporters like Joe Schlesinger, CIA agent Tony Mendez and several of the hostages mixed with archival footage.
Directors Larry Weinstein and Drew Taylor set up the story, providing context about the political climate in Iran that preceded and instigated the events of the hostage taking. It’s straightforward talking head storytelling, but it’s riveting and exciting stuff.
The tale is told from the Canadian point of view and while some details overlap with Affleck’s vision of the story—they really did use the ruse of a film production called “Argo” to cover their tracks—Taylor’s role is clearly explained. Canadian actor Victor Garber played him in the feature where he mainly seen peering around corners and closing doors, but here he is given his due.
“People lose sight of what a hero really is,” says says former CIA officer and Iranian hostage William Daugherty, as a soft focus picture of Ken Taylor fills the screen. In any other movie this might be seen as a heavy-handed image but after seeing “Our man in Tehran” it’s hard to argue with the sentiment.
It’s a reclamation of the legacy of Canadian Caper, topped with a typically quaint Canadian quote from one of the key players.
“We rose to the occasion and showed us at our best,” says Joe Clark. “Not simply because it worked but because the motives were correct.”
In the new thriller Argo, John Goodman plays unsung hero John Chambers.
The real life Chambers was a legendary Hollywood makeup artist who created techniques in the 1960s while working on films like Planet of the Apes, which are still used today. Most famously he designed the pointed Spock ears worn by Leonard Nimoy on Star Trek.
He was also a civilian CIA operative. He never won an Academy Award, but the spy organization gave him their highest civilian honour for his help on various missions, including the daring rescue of six American diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.
Not much is known of Chambers’s exploits, but Goodman felt he needed to get the essence of the man right.
“I could be funny and say I don’t want to get my eye gouged out by an angry make-up guy,” he says when I ask if he feels responsibility to Chambers. “He was kind of the progenitor of people I work with. There was a boom in the ’60s with prosthetic makeup and he was the wellhead of it. To not take that seriously would be to deny the craftsmen working now and the work that he did do for his government serving his country.”
Goodman shares most of his scenes with another Hollywood legend, Alan Arkin, who plays movie producer Lester Siegel.
“I think the world of him,” he says. “He has always touched something in me as an actor that was real and truthful. How does he do it? The things I’ve heard him say over the years and the way he started, with Second City and as a musician, has always fascinated me.
“We would sit and talk about jazz-bop, Charlie Parker, Slim Gaillard and all those cats. We found a vocabulary and it was immediate to me that I could relax with him because I could trust him.”
And Goodman is quick to acknowledge Canada’s involvement in the rescue.
“Those people were heroes,” he says of Taylor and the Canadians who hid the U.S. refugees.
“I can’t imagine doing that with the riots going on outside, the constant reminder that you are risking your lives; risking a very gruesome death. There would have been torture. But it was pulled off with typical Canadian aplomb.”
It’s no spoiler to tell you the action in Argo, the new thriller starring and directed by Ben Affleck, centres around a daring escape. Based on the real life covert operation to free six American diplomats after the seizure of their embassy in Tehran, the movie showcases the cooperation between Canadian diplomat Ken Taylor and the CIA that led to the film’s exciting climax.
Even if you already know how the movie ends — and in this case it’s a matter of public record — nothing will keep you on the edge of your seat quite like a daring escape.
The big screen version of The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford as Richard Kimble, a wrongly accused man on the lam from the law, is essentially one big escape sequence. The most famous is the crash between Kimble’s prison transport van and a freight train. To film the scene where the wanted man makes his way out of the twisted wreck they actually crashed a van into a train, although the image of Ford jumping from the ruin was added later.
Not surprisingly, some of the best escape movies tip their hand by including the word escape in the title.
The Great Escape sees Steve McQueen lead a cast of Second World War allied POWs who arrange a mass escape from a German camp. Motorcycle enthusiast McQueen refused to sign on to do the movie until a cycle chase was included in the script. The director agreed, and when the scene was shot even allowed McQueen to ride along as a German soldier. In the final, edited sequence McQueen, in disguise, is seen chasing after himself.
Based on a true story, Escape from Alcatraz starred Clint Eastwood as one-third of a team who staged the only successful escape from the island prison. Many of the dangerous looking stunts in the film were as risky as they looked. Director Don Siegel insisted the actors do their own stunts, but twice feared his stars had been lost to the strong currents of San Francisco Bay.
Finally, in Escape from New York, the city is transformed into a giant maximum-security prison. The twist is one of the prisoners is hired, after the President’s plane crashes, to get the Commander-In-Chief out safely. In this one The Great Escape alum Donald Pleasence plays the president, although it’s never explained why the U.S. leader has an English accent.
In “Argo” director and star Ben Affleck has the job of creating edge-of-your-seat tension even though most viewers already know the ending of the story. Based on the Canadian Caper, a covert operation to free six American diplomats after the seizure of the their embassy in Tehran, the movie fleshes out the story with the addition of recently declassified details.
The action begins on November 4, 1979 as Iranian militants invade the US embassy in Tehran, taking fifty-two of the fifty-eight diplomats hostages. Six managed to escape, making their way to refuge at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). In the United States the CIA hire Tony Mendez (Ben Afleck), an “exfiltration” expert to smuggle the six out of Iran to safety. With time ticking he concocts a plan that sounds like something from a bad spy movie. Creating false identities for the six he has them pose as a film crew scouting locations for a fake sci fi flick called “Argo.” Armed with fake Canadian passports, forged documents and movie storyboards they attempt the daring escape.
From the old school warner Brothers logo that pops up before the credits to the beards, clothes and 80’s vintage footage of Canadian politician Flora MacDonald, “Argo” gets the period details right, which goes a long way to forgive the inauthentic feel of much of the espionage.
Despite being based in truth, the spy story has the kind of Hollywood feel that reduces the agents to stereotypes—the world-weary spymaster, the by-the-book boss wielding the “Clipboard of Authority” and hotheaded supervisor—and the mission to a series of set pieces involving split second timing and imminent danger.
But this isn’t “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” with that movie’s nuanced, pensive take on the intelligence racket. It’s “Argo,” a Ben Affleck directed Hollywood construct, and despite its overreliance on well-worn theatrics, a pretty good one.
Affleck and John Goodman, (as real-life make-up artist John Chambers, and part time CIA operative), impress but it is Alan Arkin as Hollywood mogul Lester Siegel who steals the show. Siegle and Chambers anchored the Argo plot by lending the Tinsel Town credibility to the project, and Arkin, as the more flamboyant of the two, injects some needed energy into stateside scenes.
“Argo” doesn’t have the dark energy of Affleck’s directorial debut “Gone Baby Gone,” or the thrills of “The Town,” but it is a competently told tale about a real-life event that sounds like it could only happen in the movies.