Ten years ago, Ben Affleck's career was headed downhill.
After his fling with Jennifer Lopez and a series of bombs capped off by three Golden Raspberry Awards for worst actor, Hollywood's one-time golden boy had become a sort of joke.
But no one's laughing now.
The above image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Bryan Cranston, left, as Jack O’Donnell and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in “Argo,” a rescue thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.
Critics and fans raved about his recent directorial efforts, "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town;" with "Argo," he once again hits one out of the park.
The director's latest, in which he also stars, focuses on the real-life story of CIA operative Tony Mendez, who engineered the escape of six Americans from Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980.
The six refugees had fled the embattled embassy and were hiding with the Canadian ambassador.
Mendez faked the start-up of a low-budget sci-fi film called "Argo," which supposedly necessitated a location-scouting trip to Iran; he was to go in alone and bring out the six as though they too had been in the country for film production.
Mendez served as consultant on the film, which includes plenty of newsreel footage, strong period tunes from the Stones, Zeppelin and Van Halen, plus peerless production design and art direction.
(Not surprisingly, 40-year-old cars look an awful lot cooler than 32-year-old clothes and hairstyles.)
The film's peerless authenticity is highlighted during the closing credits, when photos from the actual event are placed beside film frames - from which they are all but indistinguishable.
The refugees are played by virtual unknowns so convincingly ordinary that it's easy to put yourself in their shoes.
Indeed, the film is so well-acted by Affleck, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston (among others) that you scarcely even notice the performances - with the possible exception of Alan Arkin as a cantakerous director; but then, he gets most of the good lines:
The Iranian revolutionaries, he says, "want CIA blood on their breakfast cereal." He agrees to back the project, even though the script "ain't worth the buffalo s- on a nickel"; but he wants it to look official: "If I'm doing a fake movie, it's gonna be a fake hit."
As for working in Hollywood, Arkin reflects bitterly that "it's like coal mining: You come home to your wife and kids - and you can't wash it off."
Special kudos go to editor William Goldenberg. He manages a masterful mid-film montage that alternates between a public reading of the "Argo" script and mounting tensions in Iran - giving a faint fragrance of heroism and mythology to Mendez's mission.
Best of all is his handling of the climactic trip through airport security, juggled against Iranians discovering the truth and frantic stateside scrambling to make the escape work.
I haven't felt that squirmingly nervous in a theater in many months - and Goldenberg achieves it all with no gunfights, explosions or flashy visuals.
"Argo" suggests Affleck will be around for a long time. Watch for him next in Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder."