(aka a lesson in keeping the faith)
Academy Award winning writer, View Askew alumni, Jack Ryan, popstar toy-boy, failed superhero, acclaimed director – to follow Ben Affleck’s career in Hollywoodland is to be amazed and frustrated in equal measure. The king of the monologue, Affleck was once as famous for bestowing acid tongued diatribes on the state of modern relationships and testosterone fuelled corporate rampages as he was his winning grin but by the mid noughties had managed to become something of a byword for career suicide. Curvier than a ball from Fenway Park, you just can’t peg this guy down but we can chart his rise and fall (and rise again… and potential fall) throughout a defining decade and beyond.
Born in California, Benjamin Geza Affleck-Boldt soon moved to Massachusetts and it was in this crucible of performing arts and theatre that the young Affleck boys (brother Casey) were thrown into commercial auditions and dreamt of careers as leading men with neighbourhood pals, namely a young Matthew Damon. Of course their parents would say they were destined for fame but these Boston boys worked at it – living together, scrimping their wages and all the while improvising and developing their beloved screenplay for Goodwill Hunting. 1997 and the big time was calling for our Ben but over the next ten years some choice decisions, leading-man flops and a re-imagining would see Affleck’s reign come full circle.
It was Kevin Smith’s Jersey based fan-boy cult fare of the mid nineties that first brought Affleck to the attention of this young film fan. A bit part player in Mallrats (’95), Affleck stepped up to the plate delivering writer/director Smith’s dick and fart joke laden script in Chasing Amy (‘97) with an honest, world weary relatability that would see him cement his position in the clique and reprise his connection time and time again. In a world of snoochie boochies, finger-cuffs and Mooby burgers, Affleck was part of the furniture but it was only a matter of time before his chiselled looks opened the door to Hollywood’s leading roles.
Many an actor blessed with an easy charm, strong jaw and comedy chops would happily eek out a content existence as tame rom-com fodder but Affleck sought substance. Not only did he receive a Screen Actors Guild Award for Academy darling Shakespeare in Love and survive sci-fi J. horror adaptation Phantoms relatively unscathed, he took his first tentative steps into Hollywood blockbuster-dom in Michael Bay’s Armageddon.
1999 – 2000
Script driven features paved the way in a great period for Affleck. Challenging the wrath of God as Bartleby in Kevin Smith’s religion baiting Dogma and spewing motivational tirades in Ben Younger’s Boiler Room, this is Affleck in top quotable form. But he still had time to form solid on-screen partnerships with quality leading ladies Gwyneth Paltrow (Bounce), Charlize Theron (Reindeer Games) and Sandra Bullock (Forces of Nature).
Now, you may have your issues with Michael Bay’s attempt at a WWII picture but Affleck’s crop duster come fighter pilot Rafe McCawley and the high-definition bomb dropping camera angles of Pearl Harbour are an undeniable guilty pleasure. But for those too stubborn to admit this, uber cameo crammed comedy Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back proved he could still deliver the funnies when called upon.
The end of an era…
In a last hurrah to his popularity and common sense, Affleck threw himself into thrillers hinged on great characters bouncing off amazing supporting males. Samuel L. Jackson provides a worthy adversary not to be underestimated in legal cat and mouse flick Changing Lanes whilst Morgan Freeman added gravitas to Affleck’s pivotal role in political thriller The Sum of all Fears. Taking on the legacy of Tom Clancy’s CIA operative Jack Ryan (the second greatest fictional Jack after Reacher) was no mean feat and was always going to pale in comparison to Messrs Ford and Baldwin but it’s a solid effort none the less.
2003 – 2004
The age of ‘Bennifer’ and that ‘superhero’…
A sad period we must touch on but let’s not dwell, hey? As they say, you cannot choose who you fall in love with but you can choose which cobbled together cast of oddballs you select for your first outing as a superhero. And a leather clad blind one at that. As if George Clooney’s nippled Batsuit never happened, Affleck’s career and public persona took one hell of a beating. Whilst his vigilante lawyer Matt Murdock tripped and stumbled at the box office (and yes, that is a blind joke) his love life with Jenny from the Block played out in music videos and gossip magazines. The result was a sickening run of floppy features Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas and Jersey Girl… Why Ben? Why?!
2005 – 2006
Loneliness loves company as Affleck and Kevin Smith unite in downward spirals for Clerks II. Smokin’ Aces and Hollywoodland have their moments and I’m watching reruns of Dogma and Boiler Room in memoriam.
In the ultimate reinvention, Ben Affleck the former leading man is now behind the camera. And he has a beard! Taking some much needed time out to hone his true creative passion (I’m guessing a bit here), the Affleck is back with dark, gritty Boston based mystery Gone Baby Gone. Losing the commas from Dennis Lehane’s epic novel, older brother Ben untaps a powerful performance from Casey in his first leading role, guiding him through neighbourhood loyalties to unravel a child abduction case in a must see, tonally dark crime caper. Brotherly love has won the day and a more intellectual Affleck inhabits the earth. All is well again.
But what did the future hold for Mr Affleck? Back in the saddle and with fresh wind in his sails he takes the plunge as director and star of 2010’s The Town before tackling political hotcake Argo (’12), leading both to critical and commercial acclaim. In a complete reversal of fortune, Company Men (’10) and David Fincher’s Gone Girl (’14) extend this new dawn and fans rekindle their lost love of the Affleck…
…Just as long as he doesn’t do anything ill-advised like another superhero movie…
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