With Justice League tracking a huge box office opening, Joss Whedon busy lightening tone and Zack Snyder stepping away permanently, there are others who have become lost amongst the kerfuffle. One is an Oscar-winning screenwriter and Best Picture winner, hounded by paparazzi and internet rumour mills for his continued role in Warner’s DC universe. Not only did he give us a new and surprising Batman, but was also hailed as the best thing in a film which others refer to politely as disjointed. He is Ben Affleck.
Amongst the white noise of reshoots, lacklustre reviews for Live By Night and his Batman commitment issues, some might have forgotten what Affleck has achieved. Sure he might have made amends for his Daredevil with that pitch black Bruce Wayne, but the media hop-scotch which has come with The Batman has undone some of that. However with this in mind we thought it time to offer up a little perspective for people with short memories.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Winning that Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting made overnight stars of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Robin Williams won an Oscar and it became a staple in my home from that moment on. Film roles followed that tried slotting our would-be heart throbs into leading man genre driven movies. Pearl Harbour, The Sum of All Fears, Armageddon and finally Daredevil. These were broken up by Chasing Amy and the only other pairing of Affleck and Damon in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. However Good Will Hunting is the one you should come back to as it exists in a time untainted by bad relationship choices, media intervention and internet conjecture. At its heart ‘Will Hunting’ is about opportunities taken, friendships made and moments savoured. A point this clip makes better than most without feeling the need to grandstand.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Out of left field, unannounced and with no apparent desire this directorial debut wrong footed everyone. Taking Shutter Island scribe Dennis LeHane’s source material and evoking period, mood, character and tonal balance on a touchy topic made people take notice. Measured, concise and uncomfortable to watch Gone Baby Gone remains the launch pad which would turn Ben Affleck into something else. Acting as both co-screenwriter and first time director he quashed the Will Hunting rumours, proving himself able to draw great performances from fellow actors. As Matt Damon had gone on to establish himself in the Bourne franchise, this seemed fortuitous timing which would garner Affleck industry kudos.
This bar scene shows a burgeoning talent at work as he handles camera angle, tension building and character beats coupled with close up action. Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Titus Welliver remain standouts in an outstanding ensemble cast. Uncompromising, hard-hitting but unerringly human Gone Baby Gone remains a great film.
The Town (2010)
Based in Boston again and drawing on Dennis LeHane as his chief inspiration, Affleck focuses on the close-knit Charlestown district. Both in front and behind the camera on this occasion The Town showcases similar directorial talents coupled with visual flair. Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and the late Pete Postlethwaite give this film a sense of place through solid performances, while Affleck lavishes similar attention both sides of the lens.
Sharing script duties with Peter Craig, Affleck the director demonstrated development most effectively through his use of differing perspective in The Town’s opening bank robbery. Contrasting points of view and broad stroke character introductions are all covered with economy and style. He conveys the claustrophobia, understated threat and small town mentality which pervades each character within this cosseted community. Which not only helped make this follow-up an enticing proposition to studios, but afforded Affleck an opportunity to tackle less commercial fare.
Representative of all Affleck’s work to date Argo is brutally topical and staunchly uncommercial, featuring stock footage of Tehran’s US embassy meltdown. Lifted direct from CIA case files this Chris Terrio (The Batman) script contains knife-edge tension, comic turns and heavy weight political commentary.
Coming across like All The President’s Men and Three Days of The Condor combined, his direction is drum tight, focusing on ensemble performance without losing sight of a bigger picture. Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck are all understated stand outs amongst a sea of top drawer character turns. Maintaining an unflinching focus Affleck casts a measured eye over events never watering down or dropping the ball.
Argo remains a high water mark demonstrating an ability to handle tone, topic and real life drama without breaking sweat. A point best proved in this CIA best bad idea pitch twenty odd minutes in. Combining both comedy, tragedy and political savvy it brings together Argo’s best elements reminding us all what Affleck can do.
Beyond the derisory comments of internet naysayers let this act as a reminder to those who chose to forget how Ben Affleck got here. People make mistakes and film actors more than most, but bad press needs a counter measure and sense of balance. Irrespective of the critical reception awaiting Justice League no one person is solely responsible, which is a fact people might like to remember come opening day.