Laremy Legel October 9, 2012
“Argo,” which hits theaters this Friday, is the third full-length directorial effort from Ben Affleck. A taut thriller, “Argo” is an excellently paced political thriller and definitely another feather in Affleck’s cap. Does this prove Ben Affleck (who also stars in the film) has far more aptitude behind the camera than in front of it? Take a look-see at the numbers behind the three movies he’s directed so far.
That’s a critical track record that would make Pixar blush, and the box office returns are delightful as well. Now, money and critics don’t mean everything, but they certainly mean something, and in this case it would be hard to construct a stronger debut than director Ben Affleck has had with his trio of thrillers. But what of his acting accolades? Well, to be kind, they are a little spottier. There have been certified hits; “Good Will Hunting,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “State of Play” jump immediately to mind. There have been huge flops, too; “Daredevil,” “Gigli” and “Pearl Harbor” merely lead to a larger conversation about “Jersey Girl” and “Surviving Christmas.” The sad truth of the matter is that Ben Affleck’s acting career has been extremely hit and miss, whereas his directing career has been hit and then hit again. As the old saying goes, a 100 percent track record is always going to look better than anything involving “Daredevil.”
One primary reason for this could be found in the great untold mystery of the acting process. Here’s a simple truth, rarely considered: Actors generally have a tough time figuring out what a good film looks like in incubated script form. Ben is no different than any other actor, groping about in the darkness to find great work. The best actors of our time, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, have learned the quality of a film is largely director dependent, but more often than not an actor’s resume is filled with highs and lows, peaks and valleys, gutters and spares. Affleck has learned a powerful lesson, which is this: If you can’t figure out which script and director combo is going to work, then you’ve got to cut out the middle man. Or rather, insert yourself into the process as the middleman. That’s precisely what Ben has done, casting himself in two out of three films, while throwing his brother in as the lead of the other, “Gone Baby Gone.”
This, for better and better, is the evolution of our relationship with Ben Affleck. Where the first epoch of Affleck (1997- 2007) brought a myriad of messes to the big screen, this new era promises to be more fully fledged awesome. We’ve always known he could write, as the Academy blessed that ability in 1998, but this new technique of bringing out the best in himself, using, erm, himself, means we’ll be knee-deep in Oscar-nominated Affleck from here on out. In 50 years, there’s every chance we’ll look back at Ben primarily as a director, with the early “acting” angle merely used as roast fodder. That is, of course, unless he chooses to keep right on directing himself, secure in the knowledge that his directing chops will bail out or shield any potential acting weaknesses.
Either way, Affleck’s directorial career is a very nice situation for a talented fellow. Indeed, “Argo” is proof of this process. It’s a Best Picture candidate, and Affleck’s performance in it is stellar. Ben has taken a prior weakness — poor script and/or director choice — and turned it into a strength, even as he proven himself a far superior director than actor. There are worse things to learn about yourself at the tender age of 40 than your true calling. All hail Ben Affleck, perennial Best Director contender? So say we all.
Categories: FeaturesTags: Argo, Ben affleck, Daredevil, Gigli, Gone baby gone, Good will hunting, Jersey Girl, Pearl harbor, Shakespeare in love, State of play, Surviving Christmas, The town