Ben Affleck was struggling to get his acting career off the ground with only bit parts in relatively ignored films bar, in what would become a recurring role with Kevin Smith, Mallrats and Chasing Amy. It has been said that it all it takes is a good idea and that’s where Ben Affleck and Matt Damon come in with their Oscar-winning film, Good Will Hunting.
It may have been the film that started their careers, that accelerated them to stardom but it doesn’t mean it was all simple and handed to them on a platter. In fact, their script was rejected multiple times especially from one studio who kept suggesting that they change things without reading it. In fact, they knew it wasn’t being read because they unnecessarily added a blowjob scene which got more and more graphic with every “redraft” they were asked to do. How do you like them apples?
It was in the year 1997 when his career truly took off It was a year that would cement him as an A-list actor and one of those celebrities that everyone knows: from his acting to his relationship with Jennifer Lopez and currently his celebration as a director. Although he wasn’t the main character or the main attraction in Good Will Hunting, nevertheless it was the beginning of the Boston accented superstar-to-be with writing one of the greatest films ever with lifelong friend Matt Damon. The Academy recognised their efforts in coming from nothing to write one of the best original screenplays with a thoroughly deserved Oscar. Robin Williams also received an Oscar for his co-starring role in the magnificent character driven drama. Matt Damon returned to writing for 2002’s Gerry with Casey Affleck and Gus Van Sant but Affleck has now seemed to return to it for good with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s thrilling crime drama The Town.
As an actor Affleck instantly progressed into the spotlight with three films in 1998: Phantoms, Armageddon and Shakespeare in Love. Phantoms may not have been the most successful of films but the other two accelerated his career by working with the heavily criticised by box-office boomer Michael Bay in Armageddon. Armageddon may be shallow – Michael Bay at his best – but it raked in a lot of money and you can’t go on a social networking site without it being mentioned when it is on TV as it is a viewer favourite. Ben Affleck lined up with celebrities of ridiculous fame with Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi, William Fichtner, Billy Bob Thornton, Keith David, Michael Duncan Clarke, Liv Tyler, Will Patton and even Owen Wilson in his early days. He held his own against these being one of, if not, the audience’s favourite character by bringing in the drama and swooning the ladies. Then, in a very different film, he moved to Shakespeare in Love which raked in seven Oscars – with the acceptance speech by Gwyneth Paltrow – out of their thirteen nominations but, unfortunately, Affleck wasn’t any of these with his supporting role.
In a sort of repeat year, Affleck added another three credits to his CV in 1999 with a best forgotten role in 200 Cigarettes but two notable and distinctive roles in Forces of Nature and the satire laced and blasphemous Dogma by Kevin Smith. Forces of Nature is the same churned out romcom chick flick that dulls most men; on the plus side, it did help Ben Affleck on his way to being something of a hot property and that may mean nothing to the audience but it’s a lot to producers and directors alike. With this side of him established, he would bring in more customers to a film that may not suit them – think about it, have you seen a film because of a certain actor/actress or, more relevantly, a certain crush? The answer is probably yes because we are driven by similarity and that’s what Ben Affleck was achieving. Dogma was a much better film and showed that he could do drama and comedy whilst being a villain, and a likeable villain at that, alongside collaborator Matt Damon.
Entering the new millennium, Affleck was now a recognisable star and if you didn’t know him, you were surely out of the loop. He was the go-to-guy for blockbusters and this is what brought the downfall of his career. With Good Will Hunting, it was a brilliant film with an inspiring story and a great character arcs surrounded by magnificent acting but, now, he seemed to move towards “doing it for the money and fame” rather than his love for acting. It was apparent in his performances that he knew how much of a big deal he was and barely tried; his presence was enough. It was apparent that now he was famous, he was going to be the anti-Affleck, going against everything which made him so likeable in the late ‘90s. These next few years made him lose all credibility as an actor by accepting even the dullest film with shallow characters and mindless storylines.
A key film, one which marked the beginning of his downturn, was the dreadful and flat Pearl Harbor [sic]. A minor role in Jay and Silent Bob did make audiences laugh, he was too busy trying to fix his addictions and with his relationship with J-Lo blossoming, she might be blamed for distracting him and guiding him to some massive career mistakes. With his addiction fully rehabilitated and in a state of remission, he now added another three credits in 2002 with Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears and The Third Wheel. Changing Lanes and The Sum of All Fears did have some great supporting talent with Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman in the films, respectively, The Third Wheel was more romcom simplicity. The first two were entertaining and could be given three stars easily, they weren’t up to the standard of Good Will Hunting which may be unfair to compare everything to; it’s hard to replicate such success but when you have the talent, you need to find the right creative outlet.
Now in 2003 came his first Razzie win and it was a double win for worst actor and worst couple. It began with three of the most criticised and most hated films of all time, three atrocities unforgivable in the eyes of a cinephile and even the customers in general. These three were the terrible unfaithful Daredevil, the unromantic Gigli and the slightly better Paycheck. His run was now over. What he worked so hard to achieve was destroyed in the matter of years. His films were flops – Paycheck grossed almost $7m less than its $60m budget. Daredevil was torn to shreds by the faithful fans of the comics, by film critics and all of the cinemagoers that sat through a 101 on how NOT to do a comic adaptation. Although the worst was, by far, Gigli; Gigli suffered in areas it shouldn’t have like Affleck and current girlfriend demonstrating no chemistry – the only chemical reaction in this film would be the two acting as if the other has a plan to dump acid on them at any moment; wooden paranoia.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me – does that constitute mistakes as well? It seems that it should be because Affleck was nothing but a fool in 2004 by pairing up with the blank Liv Tyler to try and recreate the chemistry they didn’t have in Armageddon – did he not learn from their Razzie nomination for worst couple in that film? Jersey Girl was on Comedy Central not long ago and it seemed to be laughed at not with; even the advert mocked the film. The less said about that and Surviving Christmas the better – these are blemishes on an already irresolute career.
It seems as though Ben Affleck is undeserving of redemption at this point. In fact, he’s made more bad films than good at this point and it seems that his prime was the late ‘90s where his career should have began and ended before it was sullied. He then seemed to make better decisions as if he had some epiphany (excuse Man About Town) and it seemed as if he was taking his career seriously again, as if the drug of delusion had finally worn off and he had seen the error of his ways. He teamed up with Kevin Smith yet again for a sequel to Clerks, he portrayed George Reeves with Adrien Brody in a film about TV’s Superman in Hollywoodland and a planner of a murder of a high-price tag snitch in the incredible Smokin’ Aces. There was something almost inspiring about this sudden triple rebirth in 2006 but it was brief as he seemed to go on a hiatus: an acting one anyway.
What did he did in this acting embargo was direct. With his directorial debut he made Gone Baby Gone, an adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel which wasn’t advertised very much in the UK earning a modest $20m through film festivals and featuring in only a third of screens that an average blockbuster does. If you say Gone Baby Gone most people will be completely dumbfounded. Its cast is far from modest proudly boasting Affleck’s brother, Casey, and previous co-collaborator Morgan Freeman as well as Michelle Monaghan – it had its star power whilst retaining its indie feel. Even from the beautiful poster of a semi-silhouetted Casey Affleck with a sunset cityscape of Boston – where else? – you can tell he knows what is aesthetically pleasing.
With his new found love for directing, his hiatus featured another try at directing but this was the short Gimmie Shelter; shorts are usually unseen and are experimental or a testing ground. It seemed Affleck missed being the main man and seeing his face in work and returned to acting with the star-studded relationship medley of He’s Not That Into You which has now been replicated in Valentine’s Day and the new New Year’s Eve. Then there was the remake of the BBC’s State of Play with Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams which was very good and lived up to, if not surpassed, the original. Then the indie comedy Extract with a great cast of A-listers doing it for the love of film and not the money.
The Company Men saw him return to dramatic acting and delving past his usual two dimensional characters of the early ‘00s. In fact, he made one of the best films of 2010, one which stood up well against Good Will Hunting, Dogma and Gone Baby Gone by returning to directing as well as acting, casting himself as the leading man. That could be considered egotistical and self-important but why cast others if you feel that they won’t bring your vision to life to its truest form? This film was The Town which balanced tense drama, crime thriller and action perfectly by not letting one of them suffer as the complex character arcs were brought to life by the cast. Affleck chose wisely with Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Pete Postlethwait, Chris Cooper and Titus Welliver serving the story very well and Blake Lively giving her best performance to date.
With a great couple of years and a new decade reigning in, let’s hope Affleck doesn’t make the same mistakes as at the beginning of the millennia. It would be very difficult for him to have to resurrect his career for the second time. It seems he’s slowed down on the number of films he is making with his next two films being released next year and hopefully he is making better choices. The first to be released will be Terrence Malick’s untitled project with Rachel McAdams, which is a romance and, because it’s in the hands of a creative expert of Terrence Malick’s quality, it should steer clear of the clichéd stories that have infected Ben Affleck’s romances of the past.
The other is his return to directing in Argo where he has cast himself alongside greats like Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Tate Donavon and Super 8’s Kyle Chandler. As well as constant co-collaborator Titus Welliver who’ll make it a trio of performances in Affleck’s directorial films. It seems he’s making solid choices and returning to the supremacy he deserves. He’s rumoured for a few other films including a Ben Affleck/Matt Damon project but there’s no confirmation yet. Let’s hope he doesn’t make it three times because we’d both be fools.
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