Lately Ben Affleck is in the media spotlight for all the right reasons, thanks to the critical and commercial success of his second directorial effort, 'The Town,' and his starring role in the sobering, timely drama 'The Company Men,' opening this Friday. But there was a time not so long ago, when his name was practically a punch line, especially when combined with that of his former flame, Jennifer Lopez (Affleck's pal Kevin Smith has been credited for coining "Bennifer").
The backlash to Affleck's formerly stellar career happened in the early to mid-2000s, after a string of unfortunate movies ('Daredevil,' 'Jersey Girl, 'Surviving Christmas,' 'Man About Town,') including the legendarily maligned romcom 'Gigli.' His much-hyped relationship with J-Lo only fueled the gleeful put-downs.
But in 2006, just when he most needed it, Affleck co-starred in 'Hollywoodland,' a noir-ish drama about a shady private investigator (Adrien Brody) who tries to prove that the presumed suicide of actor George Reeves was actually a murder. Playing the ambitious yet vulnerable Reeves, Affleck is poignant and a bit pathetic (a quality he hasn't often been called upon to portray) as an actor frustrated by the limitations of his career. Whether or not it reflected his own emotions at the time, the performance was a reminder of what he's capable of in the right role.
Given the numerous mediocre movies Affleck has appeared in during his career (Is his bad-movie percentage higher than most actors or does it just seem that way?), it's easy to forget his decent roles, of which there have been several. He's done solid work in a variety of films, including Smith's 'Chasing Amy,' in which he was likable and believable as a dude smitten-with-a-lesbian (actually a bisexual, but that's another story); and gave a similarly loose, easy performance as a banished angel in the same director's religious comedy 'Dogma.'
He was a pleasant surprise as an amusingly egotistical Elizabethan actor in 'Shakespeare in Love,' and was scarily authentic as a total high school A-hole in 'Dazed and Confused,' before anyone know who he was. (Currently, Affleck's fine in the central role of a Boston townie with a conscience In 'The Town,' though he's completely eclipsed by Jeremy Renner's intense performance.)
By the mid-2000s, though, too many bleh romcoms and dim action movies had tainted his shiny, post-'Good Will Hunting' reputation; many wondered if he'd ever regain his footing. Then came 'Hollywoodland.'
Director Allen Coulter's movie has a split storyline, one following Brody's fictional Louis Simo as he tries to uncover the truth surrounding the 1959 death of the actor best known for the wildly popular 'Adventures of Superman' TV show. At the same time, Simo is dealing with his ex-wife and troubled young son (who, like many kids, was distraught by the demise of "Superman").
The deeper story is that of Reeves himself, told in flashback. A charismatic party boy, handsome and charming, the actor had always hoped for a Clark Gable-like career after appearing in 'Gone With the Wind,' but success eluded him for years. After reluctantly taking the role of a TV superhero, he becomes beloved to children, but gains no respect as an actor. He has an open affair with the wife of MGM exec Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), a woman (played wonderfully by Diane Lane) with insecurities of her own.
Affleck, who put on a few pounds for the role, shows us the vulnerability and disappointment beneath Reeves' jovial exterior, as he alternately spouts witticisms and bitter asides. His humiliation is palpable during a screening of 'From Here to Eternity' when the audience mockingly calls out Superman references during his first scene. Later, during a heated confrontation, the jilted Toni delivers another devastating blow by admitting she never helped him get better roles because of his limited talent. By the time Reeves is offered a gig in exhibition wrestling, his aging character has become resigned and despondent, his disillusionment reflected in Affleck's tired eyes.
It's presumptuous to draw a parallel between Reeves' unrealized plans to helm films and Affleck's post-'Hollywoodland' directorial efforts, but one can't help but wonder if the character somehow affected the actor. Whatever the case, it was an inspired performance. Get Ben Affleck News on PopEater