It'll probably be decades before Ben Affleck takes to the stage at a giant political convention and starts talking to an empty chair, but don't be surprised if it happens. In so many ways - good ways - Affleck is following in the career footsteps of another exceptionally accomplished actor-turned-filmmaker, Clint Eastwood.
In just his third feature as director - the smart, suspenseful and improbably true-life rescue saga, Argo - Affleck stars in and steers a sizable cast through a taut and terrifically crazy tale. It's the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and six State Department employees have escaped the rush of rioters storming the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. (The unsettling déjà vu, with the film coming less than a month after the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, was certainly not in Warner Bros.' marketing plans.) The group has taken shelter in the Canadian Embassy, but it's only a matter of time before they're found out. How to engineer their getaway?
Send a CIA "exfiltration" specialist in. That would be Tony Mendez (Affleck), an ice-cool G-man who comes up with a scheme so far-fetched that it sounds like the stuff of a cheesy Tinseltown movie. And that, in fact, is his plan: to convince the new Iranian regime that he and his six colleagues (yes, the increasingly scared U.S. stowaways) are a film crew, scouting locations for a sci-fi fantasy adventure called Argo. After a couple of days touring the sites, they'll hop on a plane and return to L.A.
The revolutionaries aren't dummies, though. Mendez has to set up a production office on a studio backlot (manned by a pair of old-school movie men, played with gusto by Alan Arkin and John Goodman), buy ads in the trade mags, create storyboards and a script and then make his way to Tehran, sneak into the Canadian Embassy to meet with the State Department six and prep them to act like screenwriters, producers, and cinematographers, eager to explore the exotic marketplaces of the city and the scenic desert backdrops that ring Tehran.