Sunday, September 28, 2014

Master of Resurgence: The Strangely Brilliant Career of Ben Affleck

In comparison to the McConnaissance - a media-wide hailed return of Matthew McConaughey - Ben Affleck's star status has held up strong despite the variety of guilty pleasure movies he's starred in. After nearly twenty years in showbusiness, the California actor has evolved into a filmmaker forging a strangely brilliant career.

Before he had taken on roles in major blockbusters, Affleck's filmography kicked off on a high note. After acting in several indie movies, the young impressive star and co-star/writer/actor/friend Matt Damon struck gold with Good Will Hunting. An unrecognized genius student (Damon) is forced to become a therapist's patient (Robin Williams) after assaulting a police officer. Gaining critical acclaim, the 1998 drama earned the newbies an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and an Academy Award for supporting actor Robin Williams.

Following his big win, Affleck's work on-screen went entirely off the map. Unlike his male-leading counterparts like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, whose  stayed relatively in the field of drama, Affleck took chances on everything from historical romance, romantic comedies, dry comedies, and dramas. His filmography racked up movies like Shakespeare in Love, Dogma, Forces of Nature, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas, Jersey Girl; all which ran the spectrum of respectably good, neutral, terrible, and the just plain awful. Like Gigli, (starring with his then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez that was one of the first celebrity romances that took the world by storm) was hailed as the worst movies of all time due to its haywire script, awkward direction, non-existent chemistry, and bland direction.

And, then there are the slew of action movies. Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Daredevil. Though I personally look at them as entertaining guilty pleasures, to cinema goers of all sorts they are not exactly the sweetest slices that film history has to offer. And, yet they definitely made their mark:

Starring a scrolls-length of major stars like Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Bruce Willis and Owen Wilson, Armageddon was an international box office success in 1998. Director Michael Bay's far-fetched apocalypse movie set around a group of oil drillers trained to become astronauts to save Earth from an incoming meteor. The successful science-fiction flick burned Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss a Thing and animal cracker sex into our brains forever. It also earned Academy Award nominations for special effects and every nod for a Razzie that could be earned.

After Armageddon it didn't seem like Affleck's presence as a leading man could get stronger until he starred in Bay's World War II action stunner Pearl Harbor. The historical epic centered around two friends joining the Doolittle Raid following the attack of Pearl Harbor offering huge action sequences and romance. Often panned now as another classic explosion-happy romp, at the time of its release the movie earned $450 million dollars worldwide and set up Affleck with co-stars Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett for stardom.

Before studios released six comic book movies a year, Daredevil was one of the first superhero adaptations to hit the big screen. The cast attracted stars Michael Clarke Duncan, Jennifer Garner, and Colin Farrell, but it didn't fare well with fans or critics. Entirely unlike the ultra-serious superhero origin stories we see today, Daredevil was criticized for its melodramatic script and acting. Though Affleck met his future wife Garner on the set of the movie, the humiliation he endured donning the superhero persona was one of his biggest professional regrets.

So many careers in Hollywood could easily prove that there is no success to formula in Hollywood except to try. It's no hidden secret that Affleck tried everything. His work wasn't obvious in displaying a method process to acting nor being a pretty face who was good at memorizing lines. At the time when these were movies were released they earned favorable reviews from the media and big bucks at the box office. As the years passed by, perspectives have changed, and today they are more or less looked after as guilty pleasures. The tall dark handsome star was often judged for his limited acting chops not being as sharp as other male stars but he still proved to be a formidable star.

Presumably as all performers choose projects that look good on paper or are attached to interesting co-stars/directors, Affleck's work began to change in scope. As early as 2006, he portrayed television legend George Reeves (the original Superman) and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his gruesome, shocking death in the biopic Hollywoodland. Hailed by some as an Oscar contender, it was the first of several movies that began receiving the right sort of attention again.

When actors are not attracted to the most interesting or complex stories, often they start their own production companies or begin directing their own movies. Though he continued making movies well into 2010, Affleck's next leg of his journey didn't knock Actor off its resume but instead added Director.

In a trio of successful hits, Affleck came back swinging Gone Baby GoneThe Town, and Argo. 

Released nearly one after the other, he directed all three films. The first was set in Boston based off a popular novel about two detectives investigating the disappearance of a little girl. Casey Affleck, (Ben's real life younger brother) starred in the movie, and the film itself gained enough traction for supporting actress Amy Ryan to be nominated for an Oscar.

Affleck starred in his next directorial follow-up called The Town playing a bank robber who falls in love with one of the heist's victims. It again had Oscar contender written all over it but failed to get award show recognition as other strong contenders took the lead.

But it was Argo that firmly planted Affleck back into the spotlight. Set during the Jimmy Carter administration in Tehran, Iran, Affleck directed and starred as a CIA exfiltration specialist who proposes to rescue six U.S. Embassy staff members hiding from Iranian activists and expedite them to Canada as fake Hollywood crew members. In a delicate balance of comedy, drama, and suspense, Affleck's work as director sweeped the 2013 award show season earning him a Best Picture Academy Award. The unexpected victory reminded those watching on the ceremonious evening that hardwork can make comebacks possible.

In summer 2013, Affleck took another leap of faith to star in another superhero movie: this time as Bruce Wayne/Batman in director Zach Snyder's Superman franchise. Instantly trending on twitter were protests of the casting announcement; one of which he humorously highlighted the backlash on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Nearly a year later the tide has started when Affleck beefed up for Bruce Wayne and appeared alongside Clark Kent himself at Comic Con. Doubt slowly transformed into acceptance and even open-mindedness for the Man of Steel sequel, mostly sparked by the interest if Affleck make a good enough Batman (something I've personally always imagined and can't wait to see).

In terms of movie star quo, the Oscar winner has really done it all. Been involved in a major celebrity world-stopping media-obsessed romance? Check. Bombed in one of the worst movies of all time? Check. Managed to come through the other side of almost unscathed? Check.

As for his next trick, Affleck has been cast alongside Rosamund Pike in the maritial-psychological thriller known as Gone Girl. Highly anticipated, and already garnering reviews of career-defining praise, the fourty-two year old leading man is acting a different tune as the charmingly-suspicious husband being investigated for the disappearance of his wife.

One of the reasons director David Fincher cast Affleck for this highly anticipated adaptation was for his experiences of being the center of media attention with the Bennifer obsession, but within the promotional work of Gone Girl, castmates have supported him and a lot of his smart, funny personality that is publicly under the radar. Throughout production, the filmmaker quickly discovered how bright and underestimated Affleck seems to be by the public and critics. With more than his fair share of tabloid conjecture, rock bottoms, and successes, Affleck is more than a comeback kid; he's a master of resurgence.

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