Ben Affleck in his directorial debut 'Argo'
This week sees the release of Ben Affleck's newest directorial effort, “Argo”. Based on the true story of the CIA and Canadian Government's crazy plan to stage a large fake Sci-Fi movie production in order to get six hostages out of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, the movie has received great critical praise and has been talked of as a possible frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar by many, including famed critic Roger Ebert.
So... how exactly did Ben get to this place? A decade ago, Bennifer was its peak and running wild. Now, Ben Affleck is one of American cinema's finest auteurs, one of the best young directors working behind (and in front, for Affleck's case) the camera. (And yes, 40 years old is a pretty young age for directors.) Who woulda thunk?! In retrospect, we take a look at Ben's best and worst moments in his career that have lead up to this point. And try to make sense of it all.
1. Fresh Faced Young Star
Ben Affleck toiled in relative obscurity in his early years as an actor. Having worked as a child actor, Affleck would appear in a PBS children's series, “The Voyage of the Mimi”, as well as several other made-for-TV movies. Most people however, would remember him for his “good looking asshole” type roles in Richard Linklater's teen classic “Dazed and Confused” (1993) and Kevin Smith's “Mallrats”. Affleck's partnership with foul mouthed indie moviemaker Smith in particular, would bear fruit in 1997, with a turn as the leading man in Smith's “Chasing Amy”. In this heart wrenching movie that also explores gender roles, sexual norms, friendship and more, his performance as a comic book artist torn between his former lesbian girlfriend and his best buddy still stands as proof that Affleck can act, with the condition being that it's the right kind role for him. (Hint: No action hero stuff.)
2. Oscar Winner/Mainstream Success
1997 would prove to be a banner year for Affleck. Besides the success of “Chasing Amy”, Affleck would achieve another career accolade by teaming up with another buddy, occasional on-screen and always and forever off-screen bro Matt Damon. Though he did have a role in the movie as the best friend of Damon's unrecognized genius character, Will Hunting... their biggest success would come from the fact that the fearsome brosome co-wrote the screenplay together. The movie would garner an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay – producing what could still possibly be the most exuberant celebration for an Oscar win in recent memory.
Affleck would move onto blockbuster type movies – certainly more higher profile material but questionable creatively and critically. Such movies would include Michael Bay's “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbour” and also the Marvel Comics adaptation, “Daredevil”. All this while, he balanced it with another Smith effort “Dogma”, the Jack Ryan thriller “The Sum of All Fears” and popular thriller, “Chasing Lanes”. The influx of bad acting roles and increased paparrazi attention would be a sign of things to come for Affleck's career.
3. The Bennifer Era
“Bennifer” would signal a nosedive for the fortunes of Affleck's career. Razzie nominations and wins would stream in for a string of bad movies – “Daredevil”, “Paycheck”, “Surviving Christmas”, “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl”. Affleck and Jennifer Lopez seemed to be on every magazine – People, US Weekly... they were on there, probably with some crazy made-up rumour. People were getting sick of Affleck, whether deservedly or otherwise. Kevin Smith's “Jersey Girl”, while not a great movie by any sense of the word, probably didn't deserve all that bashing. Though, the J-Lo cameo at the start of the movie probably didn't help either...
4. Renaissance Man
After the whole Bennifer fiasco, Affleck made the smart move to lie low for a while. He would make a triumphant return in “Hollywoodland” (2006), playing George Reeves, the actor who brought Superman to life in the television series of the '50s. Ironically, Affleck's experience during the “Bennifer” period of his life, where he was reduced to nothing but a mere punchline whould serve him well. George Reeves, while grateful to the fame and riches the Superman role had brought him, had always envisioned himself doing more serious acting gigs. Ben's own experience served him well in this role, knowing the helplessness of watching his career become a joke but not being able to do anything about it.
5. Ben Affleck, Director
The very next year, Ben Affleck would continue his reinvention with his directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone”(2007). Affleck co-wrote the script based on the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane. The movie centers around the kidnapping of a girl in Boston and the lives of the two private investigators it affects. Ben directs his brother Casey in a modern neo-noir thriller, a morally ambiguous affair that'll have you questioning yourself as the events in the movie unfold. The film made many “Best Of” lists at the end of the year and is considered one of the best directorial debuts of all time. Affleck's natural skill at coaxing good performances out of his cast is obvious, perhaps due to his own experience working as an actor.
His next film, “The Town”, would arrive in 2010. Once again set in his hometown of Boston, the film was also co-written by Affleck and based on a novel, Chuck Hogan's “Prince of Thieves”. Affleck plays Doug, a former pro hockey prospect now dabbling in the world of crime, who robs a bank together with three other childhood friends, Jem (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy and Dez at the start of the film. A manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage but eventually released without harm. Knowing that Jem will probably eliminate her, Doug takes it upon himself to follow Claire but they eventually grow closer. Doug gets increasingly unhappy with the criminal lifestyle and the lies he has to keep telling to sustain it. Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) gets closer to busting the gang for their crimes... The film's action sequences are sharp, quick to the point but never forgettable. Most memorable is perhaps the film's sequence in the iconic Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. A smartly written action thriller with a perfectly cast ensemble that evokes memories of Michael Mann's “Heat”, Jeremy Renner would go on to win Best Supporting Actor (including an Oscar) nominations for his portrayal of Jem.
Ben Affleck has shown us thus far that he has a flair for smart, tightly plotted material as well as the ability to get the very best out of his actors. He even coaxed a good performance out of Blake Lively in “The Town”!
With a broad scope of film experience under his belt, we can all look forward to Ben Affleck's future work, where he will hopefully bring us to even more unchartered ground. And hopefully eradicate any trace of “Bennifer” left in our memories.