The return of Boston’s Prodigal Son
”This would be the worst movie ever made if it weren’t true.”
Those are Cambridge-native Ben Affleck’s words about his most recent film Argo. The same could be said about his life story: a local boy who becomes the toast of Hollywood, wins the Oscar, dates the big star, then suffers an extreme case of public humiliation and career isolation. But when things are at their worst and the entire world has given up on him, he comes back to have the last laugh. It sounds a bit like X2 meets All About Eve with a splash of Hoosiers.
But Affleck is a natural behind the camera with a terrific style–not unlike his friend and Argo producer George Clooney–that can incorporate car chases, tragedy, and tense political discussion within the same story without losing its way. His previous films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, focused on the seedy underbelly of Boston and the local cynicism that allows it to continue.
Argo, a fact-based spy movie set in 1979 Tehran that’s part-political thriller and part-showbiz satire with a who’s-who cast (Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin) may seem like a shift in gears. If the movie’s awesomeness is any indication, we need to stop being surprised by anything this man does (short of Pearl Harbor II).
“Usually when you do a period movie, and it kind of fades away, people forget about the story. It happened a long time ago,” says Affleck. “[But] this one keeps getting more relevant … the Arab Spring, the Green Revolution in Iran, The Canadians pull their diplomats out of Tehran the day we premiere in Toronto.
I swear to God, if this were a Miramax movie, I would have thought Harvey Weinstein had something to do with it.”
The first thing you notice about Affleck is how damn tall he is. The second thing is how casually he chats about the Red Sox, Bobby V, Flynn Rink in Medford, 1970s science fiction, and international affairs while making it sound like one continuous thought. For a guy who spent so much of the last decade on the gossip page, there’s barely a hint of insider-talk to him (except when he calls Terrence Malick “Terry,” but given the chance, wouldn’t we all?). Everything is about the movie and how excited he is for it.
“I just think it was an incredible story … the fact that this story was true, that Hollywood had worked with the CIA, that I could cast all these cool characters, that I could do three different tones, and that it took place in the ’70s—which is my favorite. I think it was the golden era for American film. And some of the worst. Like how Being There gets made in the same year as The Last Starfighter.”
“I wanted it to be like All The President’s Men. You know, dirty, papers, smoking cigarettes, everything’s just kind of a fuckin’ mess.
And that’s what we tried to do … I was just like, [to producers Clooney and Grant Heslov] ‘Guys, I literally have to do this.”
With such an ambitious project out of the way, Affleck is ready to come back to Boston with a Terrence Winter-penned Whitey Bulger film. But even with three solid movies under his belt, Affleck is still mindful of his place as the new kid in town.
“I’m really glad I made [Argo], because then I can say, ‘OK, you can go make a Boston movie.’ But you can’t fuck up Whitey Bulger.
Otherwise, that’s it. That’s the only thing you’re remembered for the rest of your career. But ours … we shot in Medford!”