“You read for a part, you feel good about it, you feel confident, and then they cast Ben Affleck.”
–Richard Dreyfuss via Twitter, 8/22/13
I found tremendous irony in the fact Richard Dreyfuss of all people tweeted this, as the first thing that popped into my head after hearing Ben Affleck was replacing Christian Bale as Batman was Dreyfuss’ 1995 film Mr. Holland’s Opus. In Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dreyfuss stars as Glenn Holland, a would-be composer who takes a job as a high school music teacher to pay the bills until his life’s work is complete—only to ultimately accept his less glamorous teaching gig is his life’s work. Such a theme is hardly uncommon in film but it’s always interesting to see it play out in real life like it is currently is with Affleck, who has obviously yet to accept the fact his destiny is to direct movies, not star in them.
Despite a reign of cinematic terror following the clout he gained after his turns in Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck is not a bad actor. In addition to those two films, he was very good in Dazed and Confused, Shakespeare in Love, The Town, and Argo; all films with a strong director at the top of his game that he wasn’t required to carry. The problem lies in the remainder of his acting resume. Pearl Harbor and Armageddon, while financially successful, weren’t exactly artistic triumphs. Changing Lanes and The Sum of All Fears were modest hits but hardly memorable. And then there are the flops: lots and lots of flops.
Referencing Gigli—a staple on many Worst Movies Ever lists—feels cheap so let us instead consider Forces of Nature, Reindeer Games, Jersey Girl, or Surviving Christmas. In the interest of kindness, I’ll stop there but Affleck sure didn’t. With the film industry at his feet, he starred in one bomb after another. The problem, however, wasn’t his talent; it was his choices. That was to say, until he made the bold choice to direct 2007’s Gone Baby Gone.
Gone Baby Gone was an excellent movie but his next directorial effort, 2010’s The Town, was even better. It seemed clear Affleck had found his calling telling gritty Boston stories, like Chuckie from Southie in Good Will Hunting made good. The true calling, it turned out, was much bigger, as evidenced by 2012 Best Picture Winner Argo, a film with a setting as far removed from Boston as possible. Ben Affleck was once again on top of the movie world with a second chance to write his own script in Hollywood—only this time behind the camera. Unfortunately, Ben Affleck the Director is obviously not the story he wants to tell.
Deciding to play Batman seems likely to represent another in an epic of bad choices by Ben Affleck the Star. Not only is he replacing the popular Christian Bale, drawing the ire of Caped Crusader fans everywhere, he’s also taking on a rather thankless part. Sorry Batman fans but, despite the angst, the actor who plays Batman is not terribly relevant. The Batman movies that have worked have done so because of memorable villains and directors with a strong visual presentation; the ones which have failed have featured neither. Nowhere in either formula, however, has the actor playing the title character factored in. If it did, why would the two Batman films with the oddly-cast Michael Keaton have succeeded when ones with Val Kilmer and George Clooney failed? All that’s required to play Batman is to brood and fit the suit, be it three-piece or bat. Christian Bale realized this, said enough is enough, and got out. Ben Affleck, in classic Ben Affleck the Star fashion, was all-too-eager to replace him instead of working on directing his next masterpiece. It’s a shame he didn’t watch Mr. Holland’s Opus before deciding to do so.