Ben Affleck: Transition from Actor to Director
Let’s face it, the general public has always been pretty critical of Ben Affleck. People all over the globe just love to hate the guy and trust me, there’s plenty to hate – or at least there was. I mean, look at him. Look at that extremely punch-able face. Listen to that obnoxious Boston accent that shines through no matter what role he’s playing. If that doesn’t do it for you, just think back to his huge overexposure during the late 90s and early 2000s. Remember Paycheck? That has to be one of the most forgettable action flicks of the 2000s and I’m a huge John Woo fan too. I shudder to think about the time I rented it from Blockbuster and falling asleep an hour in. Forces of Nature? What the hell was that? The Sum of All Fears? That film sure summed up my fears about Affleck’s acting career progressing. Who can forget Gigli? One of the worst reviewed films of all time and the pinnacle of what was Bennifer. Let’s also not forget his dreadful performance as Matt Murdock/Daredevil at a time before Netflix showed that you can in fact do a captivating story on the Marvel character.
His friend and longtime collaborator, Matt Damon, has always received high praise for his on-screen performances for the most part so why hasn’t the two-time Oscar winner received similar acclaim? Trust me, public opinion towards Affleck wasn’t very kind until he started actually making his own films. After co-winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for 1997’s Good Will Hunting, we saw that Affleck always had it in him to put all the necessary tools together to produce a watchable film. Following nearly a decade of unmemorable roles after the big win, it seemed like Affleck couldn’t sink any lower on the totem pole. That was until he stepped behind the camera and started wowing audiences with what he can do as a director.
Affleck first film as a director was 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. It brought him back to his hometown of Boston and reunited him with his family. The star of the picture was his younger brother, Casey Affleck, who appeared alongside him and Damon in Good Will Hunting. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel, Casey and Michelle Monaghan portray a pair of private detectives investigating the abduction of a young girl and soon get caught up in all kinds of chaos from drug lords to crooked cops. John Ashton, who I don’t remember seeing since Beverly Hills Cop, shows up here belts out a memorable role as a brash man of authority. The film was favorably reviewed often praising Ben’s skills behind the camera. The script was also co-penned by the older Affleck and managed to get some damn good performances out of its cast. Amy Ryan (Queens native, represent), who plays the girl’s neglectful mother, received an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress. I actually have no problem at all saying Gone Baby Gone is one of my favorite films ever. There’s plenty of drama, suspense, and characters who make you feel every word they say and every single move they do. Ten years after his initial Oscar win, everyone was now put on notice that Ben Affleck wasn’t throwing in the Hollywood towel.
After having some time to let his career resurgence sink in, he then tried his hand at another film, once again set in Boston. Can lightning strike twice? Ben Affleck pulls triple duty with 2010’s The Town where he wrote, directed and starred as Doug MacRay in this crime drama with a star-studded cast. The film pits a group of strong Irish Catholic friends trying to administer a huge bank robbery while their leader falls for the manager at the very same bank. That’s not all, an intense officer is also trying to bring them down. The ending is a bit weak admittedly and I didn’t enjoy this as much as Gone Baby Gone but it was still pretty good and another performer from an Affleck-directed picture walked away with an Oscar nomination, this time Jeremy Renner. This was one of Pete Postlethwaite‘s last films before his passing in 2011 and although he only has one brief scene, Chris Cooper steals the show in a big way. Fun fact: During a visit to Boston a few years ago, my friend actually pointed out the exact Burger King where the climactic shootout occurred. A piece of history, indeed!
Two years later, Affleck aimed big and attempted to outdo himself by producing with a biographical film that’ll potentially sweep the award season. This one on an important event in American history. He was determined to dish out his greatest performance yet both behind and on-screen. Argo told the story of Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who poses as a Hollywood big shot in order to rescue a group of hostages stranded in Tehran, Iran in the 1980s. His plan is to enlist the help of a film producer and a make-up artist by the name of John Chambers, responsible for the timeless prosthetic used in the Sci-Fi classic, Planet of the Apes, to help him free the captive. The real-life Chambers actually went on to win a Media of Merit for his role in the mission. The team constructs a huge promotion for a bogus big budget film and travel to Iran under the guise of location scouting. The movie was heart-pounding from beginning to end with a fascinating story and some outstanding acting from Affleck, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Argo wound up nabbing Affleck his second Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay but the best was yet to come. That night, it won for Best Picture. All the Affleck haters in 2012 were silenced that night as they watched him take the stage to accept the big one. It was certainly a surreal image to watch that night.
Ben Affleck has improved his image over the past decade and his three films have made people forget his career slump all those years ago. We saw how good of a performer he can be with the right script and motivation and how great he can be as a filmmaker. He still has his detractors though, no doubt. He received tons of backlash from the announcement of his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming blockbuster action flick Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The jury is still out on how he’ll size up to past Dark Knights Michael Keaton and Christian Bale but hey, it can’t be any worse than the last time he starred as a superhero in a comic book film, right?