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Mr. Affleck’s Wrong Opus

“You read for a part, you feel good about it, you feel confident, and then they cast Ben Affleck.”

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.

–Sean Daly

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Marilyn Armstrong August 31, 2013, 7:36 pm

    I suspect (but cannot prove) that Ben Affleck, like so many actors, takes roles because they result in a nice, fat paycheck. I think he directs movies for love and acts for money, and maybe for fun. Just sayin’

    • Sean September 1, 2013, 8:40 am

      I suspect you are right, Marilyn, but instead of using his tremendous comeback in the industry as a director to keep building his legacy (and ensuring future fat paychecks to do so), he’s chosen to go back to the blockbuster route that has consistently failed him. Considering he probably wasn’t next in line after Christian Bale for this gig, I’m wondering a.) how much this role pays?, b.) how good the script and director’s vision are?, and, c.) how many higher profile actors passed because of questions a. and b.?

      • Marilyn Armstrong September 1, 2013, 8:57 am

        I have to assume that the paycheck is very big! And the ego bump not half bad either being as Affleck (you’re right) has (as did Costner) a painfully out of whack self-image of himself as some kind of superhero. I thing it’s testosterone-related. Too many steroids? Someone offered it to him, obviously, because he got it … What kind of deal was made back behind closed doors? We can speculate, but we’ll never know. We can safely bet there was a deal from which all parties expect to financially benefit. Whether or not it works out? Your guess and mine are about equally useless. But on the upside, speculation is good, clean, FUN. Right or wrong, we get to amuse ourselves at their expense :-)

  • cindybruchman August 31, 2013, 8:39 pm

    What an insightful post! I couldn’t agree with you more. I will go further and confess I think the man is overrated in all areas. I wasn’t impressed with his direction in Argo or anything he’s acted in. The only thing he’s done I liked was Dogma. I think it a big mistake for him to play Batman. I think he’s plastic and a Clooney-want-a-be, and I don’t much care for the talents of Clooney, either! I can think of fifty actors and fifty directors who are better than them both.

    • Sean September 1, 2013, 8:41 am

      Hi Cindy. Dogma was a good movie. I like him in those smaller roles where he can be a wise-ass and play off others.

  • Nick August 31, 2013, 9:34 pm

    Very solid points and very well written, but I think it’s a bit too quick to judge Baffleck. I’m one of the few supporters of the decision and the actor, and have been for most of his career. Yes, he’s had some terrible films, but the perseverance is admirable. The man has changed a lot in the past ten years and when you can do that as much as he’s done (in Hollywood nonetheless) it really says something about your abilities. I’m confident and even more excited about the prospect of him being involved with the making of the films.

    • Sean September 1, 2013, 8:43 am

      I actually like him, too, Nick. I hope this pays off! I just worry he’s setting himself up to fail because, if the movie does (and let’s face it, a penny less than $500,000,000 worldwide will be a fail), he will probably get blamed. If so, I hope it doesn’t impact his directing career because he’s a very gifted storyteller.

  • Chris September 1, 2013, 6:42 am

    He’s not the greatest actor in the world, but as you say doesn’t need to be to play Batman. I say give “Batfleck” a chance.
    Argo was ok, but agree with Cindy in comments that it is a bit overrated.Still need to see Gone Baby Gone. I quite enjoyed The Town-more than Argo actually.

    I actually liked Forces of Nature, shame on me :)

  • Sean September 1, 2013, 8:45 am

    The Town was great! Hey, there is never any shame in liking a movie. Your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s!

  • ruth September 2, 2013, 9:02 pm

    Ahah, that Dreyfuss’ tweet is hilarious, interesting how you spin that to make this post. “… his destiny is to direct movies, not star in them.” Y’know, I’d agree w/ you there as Ben’s a better director than actor but like you said though, this upcoming Batman film probably isn’t going to rely on him to carry the film, and we don’t even know how big his role will ultimately be. Btw, I actually think Gone Baby Gone is still his best film, though his other two are VERY good indeed.

  • Sean September 3, 2013, 12:57 pm

    I would feel better about his chances if he were directing the movie and had a hand in writing it, like Adam’s fine recent entry stated: http://3guys1movie.com/hump-day-have-your-say-ben-affleck-cast-as-batman-nerds-revolt/

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