Does 'The Town' Mean It's Time to Take Ben Affleck Seriously Again?
By Moviefone Editors Posted Sep 17th 2010 05:00PM
Pop-Ed: I've always liked Ben Affleck. And with the release of this weekend's 'The Town' (a movie I enjoyed immensely), it's nice to have a respected Affleck back in our lives. Sure, in the past, like anyone, I questioned most of his decisions when it came to his roles. Who didn't? It's the tale of two careers when comparing fellow Best Original Screenplay winner Matt Damon and Affleck. After their Oscar win for 'Good Will Hunting,' Damon chose his roles wisely and stayed out of the tabloids; Affleck did the exact opposite. When Damon would chose to do a bigger budget Hollywood action movie, he chose the Jason Bourne films; Affleck chose 'Reindeer Games' and 'Pearl Harbor.' The thing is, I still liked the guy. Even while in the process making dud after dud, it seemed like Affleck was going to become the heir apparent to Alec Baldwin as a recurring host on 'SNL.' Despite everything, based on his 'SNL' appearances, at least the guy could still have fun and laugh at himself.
Then came the unfortunately titled 'Hollywoodland' (licensing issues prevented the film film being called 'Truth, Justice, and the American Way'). Affleck played George Reeves, a man miserable with his life after being typecast as Superman. The scene that stands out is of Affleck, as Reeves, filming himself rolling around in his front yard as an audition for professional wrestling. I was honestly moved. Reeves, unfairly, was a joke -- his last option was wrestling. Affleck, too, was becoming a punchline -- his option was Reeves. Perhaps the comparison was not lost upon Affleck, but he nailed the role (unfortunately, not many people actually saw 'Hollywoodland').
It took him awhile, but this is the trajectory that Affleck should have been on all along. This is no longer an actor who chases a paycheck. No, literally -- Affleck once starred in a movie actually called 'Paycheck.' What followed was Affleck's directorial debut -- unless you count his 1993 short film ' I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney' (seriously) -- the critically acclaimed gritty crime drama 'Gone Baby Gone,' a film that nabbed Amy Ryan a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
Affleck was wise to stay behind the camera for 'Gone Baby Gone.' His reputation was pretty much shot, and his appearance in the film may have very well lessened its power. Moviegoers theoretically passing on the possibility of watching, explaining, "Oh, it's a Ben Affleck movie? I learned my lesson with 'Bounce'!" The trouble after 'Gone Baby Gone' was twofold: It was a relatively small film and not everyone saw it, let alone knew that Affleck directed. And, as stated, Ben Affleck didn't appear in the film -- his brother Casey played the lead. To complete his comeback, Affleck needed to star in another post-'Hollywoodland' film.
For the rest of Affleck's life, he's probably going to be hearing wisecracks about 'Gigli'; that's inevitable. The stench of Affleck circa 2000-2004 is just going to be part of his life; there's no getting over that. To borrow a reference from Affleck's beloved Red Sox: Sure, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, but that doesn't mean 1986 never happened. What's fortunate for Affleck is that America loves a comeback story. And, let's face it, it's not like Affleck committed a crime ('Surviving Christmas' notwithstanding). Celebrities have came back from a lot worse. Bad films or not, he's remained a likable fellow.
Enter: 'The Town.' Not only does Affleck star, he also directs. Not an easy task. Based on this, and the good reviews alone, Affleck should be considered a major force in Hollywood again. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Affleck returns to a role in which he has to drop his 'R's for a heavy Boston accent -- shades of 'Good Will Hunting.' Most important: Affleck put his ego aside and surrounded himself with great actors like Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm. Affleck is now thinking like a successful director, not an ego-fueled actor who has to be the most important thing going on in every scene; it's not surprising that Renner and Hamm have the best lines. And, after seeing the film, it's time to welcome Ben Affleck back to the world as a respected Oscar-winning artist. 'The Town' is so good it almost makes a person forget about Affleck's questionable career choices. Almost.
Written by regular PopEater contributor Mike Ryan. You can follow Mike on Twitter.
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