Saturday, September 11, 2010

Affleck steps behind the camera again

Ben Affleck has never gotten any respect. As an actor he's been ridiculed throughout his whole career. His personal life has never done him any favors in the past either. While he may now be grounded in idyllic marriage with Jennifer Garner, his Bennifer past is not one to be forgotten easily. To put simply, Affleck has been nothing more than a distraction in front of the camera. Outclassed and out-shined by his peers on screen, Affleck never seemed to find his stride.

He was the bomb in Phantoms though.

Things took an interesting turn when Affleck decided to direct a film. While some actors have been known to make a proper transition into directing (The Night of the Hunter may be the best actor directed film ever) that doesn't make it easy to trust any actor with a film, especially an actor as controversial as Affleck. While Clint Eastwood may be one of the best directors around today, he is more of an exception than anything else. Also Eastwood paid his dues long enough to be allowed to do anything he wants. It is Clint Eastwood after all. The only breakthrough an actor has made towards directing in recent memory is Liev Shreiber and the film Everything is Illuminated. I would like to see Schreiber direct another film but probably the only reason why he was allowed the freedom to direct Everything is Illuminated was because the movie was an indie. Aside from bored television actors who are given filler episodes of their own television show to direct, the transition from actor to direct is not one given easily. Actor/directors in film are few and far between. That's what makes Gone Baby Gone so miraculous.

Whatever was missing from Affleck as an actor is made up by him as a director. To say that Gone Baby Gone was a good film for a first time director is an insult to Affleck. Gone Baby Gone was a good film period that any director would be proud of. There are concerns that Affleck may had just gotten lucky with Gone Baby Gone. It was less about skill and more about serendipity. The basis was a book by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the novel that Eastwood's Mystic River was based off (With another book made into Shutter Island, Lehane is the Nicholas Sparks of manly movies. Lehane also wrote a few episodes of The Wire). Affleck hit a goldmine when he acquired actors as well. With talent such as Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Casey Affleck (Ben's brother who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors thanks to the underrated Assassination of Jesse James) and Amy Ryan who deservedly won the Oscar for her work in Gone Baby Gone (and who also worked on The Wire). Really, it would be hard not to create a solid film with such talent at one's disposal. That's why Affleck's new film, The Town, is so important. While Gone Baby Gone could just be written up as a happy accident, The Town will validate Affleck's new career as a director.

Ben Affleck in action.

Set in Affleck's beloved Boston, The Town is about a group of bank robbers as they deal with a tenacious FBI agent and one of their own falling in love with a bank manager. There is enough going on in the story to create an engaging piece of cinema, it just depends on how adept Affleck is at finding it. Studios may still be hesitant about banking a film on Affleck's directing prowess. While Gone Baby Gone was a curious experiment, The Town is the real test. Proof in the studio's hesitance may be found in the trailer. Whether it's because of the studios fears or because of Affleck's own decision not to overshadow his own film, there is no mention of the directors name anywhere in the trailer. While the trailer does go out of it's way to mention it's done by the same director as Gone Baby Gone, it doesn't mention the name. Affleck is a household name and he's already in the credits as an actor, so why isn't he mentioned as the director? Even with Affleck directing himself, there is still no reason to worry. With critically proven actors Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Pete Postlethwaite (always underrated) and Jeremy Renner, the acting responsibility is evenly distributed and does not rely solely on Affleck.

After I watch The Town I'll finally be able to say whether or not Affleck is a good director. I hope he goes on to be an excellent filmmaker, if only to show up every person that made his acting career a punchline. The Town premieres September 17th.

UPDATE: The Town got amazing reviews so it looks like Affleck pulled it off. Well done Daredevil, well done indeed.

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