Why we heart Ben Affleck
Stop me when you know who I’m talking about: Oscar-winning screenwriter, critically acclaimed director, solid acting talent, best friends with Matt Damon… OK so the title of this article gave it away, but the above terms are not ones that immediately come to mind when one thinks of Ben Affleck. After his Academy Award success (Best Original Screenplay) with Damon for Good Will Hunting in 1997, Damon kind of left his best buddy Ben in the wings, becoming a household name in films such as Ocean’s Eleven, the Bourne trilogy and The Departed, to name but a few. Affleck, on the other hand, became a household name for very different reasons. Despite Affleck’s Hollywood good-looks, it was Damon who went on to become the box-office star while Affleck entertained the tabloids with his high profile relationships, most notably as one half of ‘Bennifer’ with Jennifer Lopez.
Affleck’s choice of film roles through most of the early Noughties didn’t help him either, starring in Pearl Harbor, Jersey Girl and (horror of horrors) Gigli, with the aforementioned Miss Lopez. Affleck’s films regularly made appearances on ‘worst films’ lists. Even Daredevil, his attempt at the superhero genre, failed to hit the heights of Spiderman or X-Men, although it did unite him with another Jennifer – Jennifer Garner – whom he went on to marry in 2005.
‘But when are you going to start defending him?’ I hear you cry. Well, this shall not be a love-letter to Mr. Affleck, nor a mushy piece telling you he’s the best thing since sliced bread. It will merely be a rational response to Affleck’s decriers, those who have failed to notice that in the past few years he has returned to form. It seems that those on the comeback from drug and alcohol addiction get more support than those who have simply made bad career choices. Rather than bursting back into the stratosphere like Robert Downey Jr., Affleck has been quietly working away in front of and behind the camera, slowly winning back the support of critics and fans.
In 2006 Affleck started on the path to redemption in Hollywoodland taking the role of George Reeves, star of The Adventures of Superman. It might have failed to make much of an impression in the public consciousness, but it debuted at number two at the U.S. box office and Affleck won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, as well as earning a Golden Globe nomination.
Aside from his performance in Smokin’ Aces in the same year (we’ll brush that one under the rug) Affleck did not appear on the silver screen again for another 3 years, but he didn’t stop working. Affleck returned to what he knew best – working-class Boston – for his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone (2007), letting little brother Casey take the stage in the lead role. Along with fellow screenwriter Aaron Stockard, the elder Affleck adapted the screenplay from Dennis Lehane’s novel, a writer whose novels have been a valuable source for film directors such as Clint Eastwood (Mystic River) and Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island). Now, admit it, you never expected to see Ben Affleck’s name in a list with Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, but Affleck surprised everyone with his obvious talent in the director’s chair. He assembled an impressive cast, including Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman and Amy Ryan, who went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, proving that Affleck was a director who could get the best from his cast. The film made a profit at the box office and established Affleck as young director with a lot of potential.
Despite his acting career having been the butt of many jokes over the years, Affleck found himself on the right side of a punch line in 2008 when he appeared in Jimmy Kimmel’s video ‘I’m Fucking Ben Affleck’, a response to a video made by Kimmel’s then-girlfriend Sarah Silverman, ‘I’m Fucking Matt Damon’. Affleck reunited with Kimmel in 2010 for Kimmel’s post-Oscar special, in which they appeared as part of the Handsome Men’s Club (Kimmel even got Damon and Garner to appear as well). People always love celebrities who can laugh at themselves, and Kimmel’s video alone must have only added to the respect Affleck had earned with Gone Baby Gone.
Affleck continued to flex his funny bone when he returned to acting in 2009. He starred alongside Jason Bateman (and who doesn’t love Jason Bateman?) in Extract, as Bateman’s long-haired, pot-smoking best friend, even earning a ‘with Ben Affleck’ credit (having ‘with’ or ‘and’ in front of one’s name is like having a big flashing arrow announcing one’s presence). 2009 was a surprisingly prolific year for Affleck, and although he didn’t completely avoid the bad rom-coms (*cough* He’s Just Not That Into You *cough*), he impressed with a dramatic supporting role in State of Play alongside Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren, and that’s no shoddy cast.
Following a critically-acclaimed directorial debut such as Gone Baby Gone, however, is always tricky. Affleck could well have floundered trying to replicate his success (just look at Richard Kelly). But Affleck is a smart man, and stayed within the working-class Boston neighbourhoods for his second directorial outing The Town (2010), only this time Affleck also took the lead role. Directing oneself is never an easy task, but Affleck’s performance in The Town convinced cinemagoers that he could deliver on both sides of the camera. It seems Affleck can handle action, emotion and tension, all while acting as well. Is there nothing this man can’t do?! Well OK, he probably can’t ride a unicycle, but he’s established himself as a dedicated family man who can direct and act at the highest level, and that’s without even mentioning all of the charity work that he does in the background. Ben Affleck, we salute you!