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Actor John Goodman and director-actor Ben Affleck hammer out a scene on the set of 'Argo.'
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BY JOHN HORN
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES--The physical requirements for the scene weren't complicated. Bryan Cranston, who plays CIA manager Jack O'Donnell in director Ben Affleck's hostage rescue drama "Argo," had to walk from one office to another, and as laid out in a Los Angeles set last year, a straight line ran from point A to point B.
But before Cranston took a step, Affleck pulled him aside and redirected him.
Iranian militants had just stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and details about the 1979 takeover were muddled--the situation was chaotic, and O'Donnell's demeanor had to reflect that. And he had to deliver more narrative exposition than could possibly fit if he walked and talked without any detours.
So Affleck plotted a zig-zagging path filled with barriers such as desks and chairs, giving the character not only time to explain the event but also impediments to dramatize the pandemonium.
"The director can inform the audience what the physical geography is," Cranston said. "What it told me was that Ben was still telling the story."
Though but a small moment in the Warner Bros. film, Affleck's choice in directing Cranston highlighted a combination of intelligence, filmmaking savvy and attention to detail rarely found in studio productions.
In one of the first meetings Affleck had about directing "Argo," the "Armageddon" alumnus talked about film stock and camera lenses, not marketing hooks and stunt casting.
Opening today, Affleck's third film as a director (following 2007's "Gone Baby Gone" and 2010's "The Town") won early acclaim from critics and audiences at fall film festivals.
"Argo" is generating favorable mentions from all manner of awards prognosticators, and Affleck has been singled out for his work not only behind the camera but in front--he stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA operative who invented the rescue scheme.
Yet the film, based on real events but goosed with fictional third-act suspense, is as much a stand-alone movie as the cap to a remarkable Hollywood comeback story.
Less than 10 years after dwelling in the industry's punch-line fringes, owing largely to disastrous "Gigli" and his relationship with costar Jennifer Lopez that branded them "Bennifer," 40-year-old Affleck has transformed himself into one of the town's most sought-after directors.
Like actor-directors Clint Eastwood and George Clooney, Affleck is determined to make intelligent crowd-pleasers, and his first two movies did just that.