There’s a funny moment in “Argo” where Alan Arkin’s producer character claims, “You can teach a Rhesus monkey to direct.”
In some ways, this is a unintentional shot at director Ben Affleck who, especially in his heyday as a Hollywood pretty boy actor, seemed the odd choice to begin directing when he debuted with the film “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007.
But that year, he surprised us by delivering a critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated film that ignited promise in Affleck as someone even more valuable behind the camera than in front of it. Then, in 2010, he made the blockbuster Boston crime thriller “The Town,” and surprised us all once more. Perhaps this Rhesus monkey was something far, far more.
And now, with Affleck’s latest release “Argo” out tomorrow, the filmmaker is taking a clear deviation from his typical realm of Boston-area crime films, expanding globally and historically to the true story of a CIA mission in Iran, in which operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) snuck out six American hostages by disguising them as a fake Canadian film crew for a fake science fiction film called “Argo.”
“This would be the worst movie ever made if it wasn’t true,” said Affleck. “It would just seem completely absurd and people would be checked out from the beginning.”
But the story is true, and Affleck — a Middle Eastern studies major — was definitely looking for a film to develop his resume as a director beyond the Boston area, and “Argo” is most certainly that film. When the screenplay found its way to Affleck’s desk, he knew immediately that he wanted to pursue this project.
“I felt like I had something to prove. Everyone just thought of me as ‘Boston guy’. Like, ‘sure, he can do a movie set in Boston, but you can’t take him to Providence,’” joked Affleck. “But then I thought, ‘f***, if it’s not good, I really am going to only be able to do sequels to ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle.’’”