ONCE upon a time there was an actor named Ben Affleck. Mention of his name in ‘good’ films was generally met with howls of derision. That’s not to say he hasn’t been in some decent films at all, at least in my opinion. Dazed and Confused, Chasing Amy, Good Will Hunting, Armageddon…breathes in…Dogma and Hollywoodland and more recently The Town. However, it’s no understatement to say the guy has been in some dross. Who’ll ever forget the schmaltzy, overblown mess that is Pearl Harbour? And what about the disastrous Gigli during his Benifer phase? Even Daredevil was below average fair.
However, Affleck’s stock is on the rise ever since he decided to take his talents behind the camera and turn his hand to directing. Already two for two with the harrowing Gone Baby Gone and The Town, he looks like he’ll be continuing his hot streak if the reviews of his latest, Argo, are anything to go by. The true story of a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist who concocts a plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador in the midst of the Iranian revolution, it’s already generating Oscar buzz.
He seems to know how to pick a story worth directing. If only he had been so good at it when it came to acting. It’s a shame, but some of his choices came across as a paycheck decision (no pun intended!). However, his tale is one of peaks and troughs and I’m genuinely delighted to see him hitting the heights now he’s a film-maker. To that end, I’m going to stick my neck on the line and reveal some of my favourite Ben Affleck on-screen performances.
Good Will Hunting (Dir. Gus Van Sant, 1997)
Everyone, at least those with a heart, likes a story about an underdog overcoming hurdles and odds to become a success. In this case, it’s the tale of MIT janitor Will Hunting who has a gift for maths but needs guidance to make the right choices. This guidance comes in the guise of Robin Williams as professor Sean Maguire.
Affleck, while not having the main role, still impresses as Will’s childhood friend Chuckie Sullivan. Despite being from the wrong side of the tracks, like Will, Chuckie always has his mate’s back. Anyone messes with him, Chuckie deals with them. But more than that, he’s one of the driving forces behind Will’s decision to try and seek a better life.
The poignant moment Chuckie arrives at Will’s home for work, after telling him: “Look – you’re my best friend, so don’t take this the wrong way. In twenty years, if you’re still livin’ here, comin’ over to my house to watch the Patriots games, still workin’ construction, I’ll fuckin’ kill you. That’s not a threat; now, that’s a fact. I’ll fuckin’ kill you”, is quite lovely.
The sadness of losing a friend, safe in the knowledge that he’s part of the reason Will’s life is set to change for the better.
Armageddon (Dir. Michael Bay, 1998)
Michael Bay has his detractors, thanks in the main to Transformers 2 (and for some, TF3). His earlier films were certainly more enjoyable. No less in your face or loud, but they were a helluva ride.
Enter stage right Armageddon. Released the same year as Deep Impact, this was the entertaining one. With Affleck playing AJ Frost, a deep core driller, he’s part of a team enlisted by Nasa to fly to an asteroid heading towards Earth and blow it up it before it destroys our planet.
High-octane, dumb as a bag of spanners but a great example of how dumb action blockbusters should be done. While some of the acting is average, not helped by some clunky dialogue, it’s fun. Even with the now expected ‘love interest’ which is given added spark by having a disapproving father as part of the drilling team, it’s still a blast.
State of Play (Dir. Kevin MacDonald, 2009)
Based on the BBC’s six-part political thriller series from Paul Abbott, this may be a controversial choice for some but I had a ball with it. As intelligent and gripping as you’d want from a thriller, this manages to evoke memories of 70s paranoia and conspiracy while keeping it slapping up-to-date. It’s always intriguing when an actor known for playing the decent guy takes on a more sinister role. In this instance it’s Affleck as Congressman Stephen Collins.
After the mysterious death of his aide, it becomes apparent her death is connected to a seemingly innocuous double shooting in an alleyway. It soon becomes apparent the aide meant more to Collins than meets the eye when he talks publicly about her death with tears in his eyes. In a pop at the media culture, the hint of a possible affair becomes more important to the newspapers and bloggers than the death of a young woman. Investigative journo Della Frye (Rachel McAdam) teams up with grizzly old hack Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) as they start delving into the practices of Collins.
Affleck is brilliant here as the man behind the politician. His actions help ask more questions, providing more twists and turns to the story that, for once, shows that Hollywood can remake something without losing any of the qualities that made the original such a hit.
The Town (Dir. Ben Affleck, 2010)
Helming and acting in a film can sometimes be a shaky prospect, but Affleck carries it off with aplomb. Playing Doug MacRay, he’s part of a team of armed robbers from the Charlestown neighbourhood of Boston. When they rob a bank, taking manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage, their lives start going down a very unexpected path. Upon releasing Claire, Doug soon discovers she too is from Charlestown and he begins a relationship with her, Claire being unaware who he is or what he’s done.
It’s an interesting twist on Stockholm Syndrome (where a hostage usually develops feelings for the kidnapper). This time, the kidnapper, Doug, starts caring for the person he took, Claire. Watching the relationship develop, while MacRay’s friendship with James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) begins to fracture certainly adds a new dynamic to proceedings.
Affleck is great as the Boston boy who discovers there’s more to life than what he’s used to within his own community. Striving to get out of the vicious cycle he’s become accustomed to, Doug keeps putting off the next job but is aware his loyalties to his old friends could keep him tied to them.