Ben Affleck Breaks Away
Do you feel it too? That wave of relief whenever Ben Affleck is involved in a tasteful, legitimate project? I felt it this week after seeing a documentary about his latest directorial effort, “The Town.” This crime thriller looks electrifying and in the doc about it, Affleck exhibits the polish and knowledge of a master filmmaker and thespian. He has come a long way to get to this point, so let’s track his progress.
Now I don’t want to appear patronizing here. I don’t mean to say that Affleck is just now proving his worth. He has always been an effective actor and filmmaker. His talent has simply been hidden sometimes under the refuse of Hollywood. For every “Good Will Hunting,” there was an “Armageddon.” Affleck has often been reduced to vapid action and romantic hero roles on account of his rugged good looks. He was forced to do silly things like save the planet from asteroids, romance a quirky Sandra Bullock, and star in a Christmas crime thriller called “Reindeer Games.”
Like George Reeves, Affleck was a high-brow actor trapped in a low-brow actor’s body. Perhaps that is why his role as Reeves, the star of the ‘50s “Superman” TV show, is his most indelible performance. It’s a piercing, self-reflective portrayal. Affleck conveys the weight of Reeves’ typecast career and in turn, his own. The power of the film, “Hollywoodland” came from watching Affleck ascend to new dramatic heights as an actor as the character of Reeves descended.
Affleck built up his reputation even further by getting behind the camera. His 2007 crime thriller, “Gone Baby Gone” is one of the most assured directorial debuts I’ve ever seen. It is positively Scorsesean in its striking sense of place, its uncompromising yet sympathetic depiction of the mean streets of Boston.
Affleck’s new film, “The Town” returns to his old stomping grounds of Boston. His character hopes to leave his crime-ridden life in Charlestown in his rearview mirror. With this film, Affleck appears to be leaving his life as a Hollywood pretty boy in his rearview mirror as well.
Back in his hometown with a rebuilt career, Affleck can breathe a sigh of relief, the same relief that is now washing over critics and filmgoers.
I’ll leave you with this self-referential line from “The Town,” uttered by Affleck. “People always say they’re going to change their lives and they never do. I’m going to change mine.” He has done exactly that. Bravo, Ben.