Directed by: Ben Affleck. I’m desperately trying to catch up on all of the new releases I was interested in seeing this year, partly because there’s a lot of them this year, partly because I really like going to the movies instead of watching at home, and partly because I like to know how outraged to be when the Oscars are decided in a few months. Partly, too, I wanted to compile an obsessive, neurotic “year-end” list and I can’t do that if I don’t know what the films are. This one got almost unanimously great reviews, and I’m intrigued with Affleck as a director anyway. The other one I saw—Gone, Baby Gone—was a pretty okay movie, but not amazing. Sure enough, though, he is improving, bit by bit. This was a perfectly good movie, maybe even a textbook case of a Good Movie. I’m sure he’s starting to get sick of the Clint Eastwood comparisons, but it is striking, with the little I know about Eastwood, how Affleck is also using his star power as a leading man to fuel little pet projects that he can also use to hone his directing skills. As far as the actual movie goes, I’d say it was a perfectly enjoyable Hollywood political suspense thriller, full of enjoyable characters, some comic relief from Alan Arkin and John Goodman—all of the key ingredients in the formula, but without a lot of syrupy emotion and quickly cut car chases and explosions. The key here is that the basic premise is suspenseful enough on its own, and importantly, Affleck is smart enough to keep himself basically out of the way—both the director and the actor—and just let the narrative unfold, if that makes sense. He’s there, and his character is important, but the film isn’t about him, even though he’s the protagonist. It’s a film about these 6 American embassy workers stuck in the middle of this crazy situation, and the thrills are much more situational and political, reflective of the high tension inherent in the incredibly complex and dangerous situation they’re in. I was pleasantly surprised, too, to see the political backdrop constructed in one of the most thoughtful, relativist, morally judgement-free ways that I’ve seen in Hollywood. It merits a few close readings, of course, but I’ll tentatively push forward the hypothesis now that this film just might be the closest thing to a politically “neutral” film. I can hear the disagreement swell up already, but in my defense, I have to point to the film’s attempt (an attempt at least) to present the abbreviated history at the beginning—even if it has to be through what sounds like Natalie Portman’s voice—and the fact that they point to the U.S. and Britain’s culpability in bringing about the situation, offering some brief historical precedent to help us understand why it is that these ordinary Iranians are so angry at these Americans. That in itself is already light years ahead of most Hollywood depictions of the Middle East, and it’s a fucking symposium on political science compared to, for example, The Hurt Locker. They do keep it pretty light otherwise, a few quick bits of dialogue among White House types, but the American involvement in kicking off the coup is included in the exposition. Furthermore, the characters and the story keeps basically as quiet about admitting American guilt as it does in pointing the finger at the crazy Iranian extremists. There really isn’t much or any Iran-bashing: there’s even a self-reflexive nod at Orientalism as the cultural attache talks about the fake sci-fi film. I don’t know, see it for yourself. When it gets a few Oscar nominations and maybe wins one or two, it probably won’t be totally deserved: this isn’t the “Best Film of the Year”, but it’s definitely worth seeing.