by Rob DiCristino
I’ve always been rooting for Ben Affleck. He was one of my earliest favorite modern actors, a position bolstered by his central role in Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse and the smattering of other supporting performances that turned me onto the ‘90s indie cinema boom. Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting showed his potential for sensitivity and insight, while Dazed & Confused and Shakespeare in Love let him indulge in some well-manicured boorishness. I think I always just related to the guy: His hamminess was clearly masking some deep-seated insecurity, something he was working through but never quite mastering. Even as a younger person, though, I knew he wasn’t the most stunning or layered thespian and that his energy needed to be deployed in a very specific way. It’s why his leading man phase never quite worked for me: He was hunky enough, but he carried too much baggage into roles in which other actors could be a blank slate. He seemed too aware of the artifice around him, never quite able to embrace the Movie Star label foist upon him.
That might be why the 2000s lean times — the Gigli, J-Lo, Jersey Girl times — felt so lean. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview with best pal Matt Damon, Affleck remarked that his career might have gone differently had he not been tagged as the “blockbuster” counterpart to Damon’s more Serious Dramatic Actor persona. Maybe those Pearl Harbors and Daredevils — commercial successes though they may have been — might have been otherwise supplanted by something more creatively satisfying. Then again, the market was different in those days — there were fewer mainstream outlets for that kind of work, and Affleck’s desire to maintain his star status, however unsure his footing may have been, would surely have kept him from pursuing it. The tabloid Bennifer nonsense only exacerbated things, with Affleck and Jennifer Lopez both commenting later on that their relationship was doomed from the start by the overexposure. Affleck would then fall into intermittent periods of personal turmoil, which further hampered his creative output.To the Wonder and Fincher’s Gone Girl — for which he hadn’t been considered in his poster boy days. Gone Girl, in particular, weaponizes Affleck’s shit-eating grin and oafish masculinity to perfection, further proof that he’s very much aware of the ways in which he’s perceived by his audience. Then came Snyder’s Batman V. Superman, maybe the worst missed opportunity of his career. He might have given the screen’s definitive Bruce Wayne performance if Snyder had understood (or chosen to embrace) that same affected ignorance Fincher used so well. Affleck recently said that the upcoming Flashpoint let him do something more “fun and satisfying” with the character, though, so we may be due for an Andrew Garfield-type reclamation.