Ben Affleck has very much been in the public eye as of late courtesy of his casting as DC’s most famous superhero, Batman. The actor, who has been a controversial figure for much of his 20 year career, has had a life of celebrity that’s been filled with ups and downs both personally and professionally but the most recent events of his professional life seem to have formed an upward curve that suggests the best of his artistic endeavours are yet to come. Even so, the celebrity elements of the actor/writer/director’s persona, such as his failed relationship with Jennifer Lopez and their career sinking professional work, have been damaging to the reception of his casting as the Dark Knight and the announcement that he is to direct Warner Bros’ latest reboot of the Batman franchise; this is despite nearly a decade of working almost exclusively with the world’s most talented and distinctive directors (Terrence Malick, David Fincher, and so on) to learn his off-screen craft in a manner that has brought his own directorial work to critical success. In this edition of Ranked, I shall take a look at each of Batfleck’s three directed feature length releases and rank them from worst to best in terms of their importance to his career and their overall quality.
3 – Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Affleck’s 2007 release, starring brother Casey Affleck and big-screen legends Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, marked the writer-director’s first writing work (aside from a brief stint on the team that brought Push, Nevada to the small screen) since his Oscar winning story for 1997’s Good Will Hunting. The drama-thriller, set against the backdrop of the director’s home town of Boston, marked the first of his entanglements with the morality of crime and the policing of it, as Casey Affleck’s Patrick Kenzie volunteered himself and his partner (Michelle Monaghan) to track down a young girl who had been kidnapped, inevitably getting caught under the strain of the task he had set on his family. The movie, which features some powerful acting and a plot twist worthy of some of Affleck’s most respected peers, won critical praise across the board for its brooding and challenging material that honestly explored the limits of humanity in a way that seemed reminiscent of his first major success on Good Will Hunting. Ranking in third place courtesy only of the quality of his other two pictures, Gone Baby Gone is a very good watch for anyone interested in seeing the potential of Affleck’s work and surely must be considered the turning point in his career and the first of his major artistic contributions to cinema.
2 – The Town (2010)
“The Town (2010), is one part heist movie and one part romantic drama, and it’s this odd mesh of styles and stories that makes this picture as enticing as it is unusual, courtesy of some very smart storytelling from Ben Affleck and company.”
This is a quote taken directly from my review of the movie I posted over a year ago on this very site – link here – and is about as accurate of a statement as I can wish to recreate. Starring Affleck himself, Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner, Mad Men’s John Hamm, and Rebecca Hall, the biggest quality of this particular Ben Affleck directed movie was, without a doubt, the high quality of the performances of his cast. Renner in particular was outstanding as a borderline unhinged, yet very loyal, member of Affleck’s small but trusted crew of bank robbers, but the true success of the film lied within Affleck’s further exploration of the morality of crime, an advancement on his themes in Gone Baby Gone. Here, Affleck’s Doug MacRay and Hamm’s Adam Frawley were on opposite sides of the law, but clearly written and presented as being incredibly similar. The story hinged on just how similar each of the characters were to one another, even down to their appearances, and remained adamant in ensuring that neither was completely vilified by the audience throughout. The Town is a very good watch for those who are appreciative of talented performers performing layered and interesting characters under the tutelage of a director with a point to prove who was clearly growing in self belief.
1 – Argo (2012)
Ben Affleck won the BAFTA and the Golden Globe for his directorial work on this moving war drama/thriller and with good reason. Argo was a movie that took the small town and district themes of his previous movies and placed them in an international context as the director’s lead character, again played by himself, worked to free American hostages from a crisis in Tehran, India, 1980, by posing as a Hollywood producer looking for a new location to film a sci-fi movie. Perhaps the most Hollywood of the entries on this list, not least for its rather supportive commentary on America’s attitude towards the war in the middle east throughout the early to mid 2000s, Argo is likely the easiest introduction anyone can have to Affleck’s directorial work courtesy of some interesting cameos and a plot that has a little more comic relief than those in his previous outings. Ranking in number one for its contemporary contextualisation of this filmmaker’s ongoing themes, the massively positive critical response, its Best Picture win at the Oscars, and the fact that it put Affleck’s name on the map as a truly talented and respectable filmmaker, Argo is not only the most moving and entertaining of the director’s three films but it also the most important to the man’s career.
In conclusion, Ben Affleck could be considered to be one of the most promising directors of the past decade and will undoubtedly be given the chance to further this reputation through his direction of the next Batman movie. And, while it’s clear that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy will be tough to surpass or even live up to, there is no doubting that the ongoing themes of this filmmaker’s oeuvre are a good fit to the themes that DC’s caped crusader often presents and challenges on the big screen, small screen, and in comic books. Argo may be the overall winner of this edition of Ranked, but there is no mistaking that Affleck’s filmography makes for impressive reading and must surely have worked to change the minds of some of his harshest critics.
So, what do you think? Let me know your thoughts on the order and on Affleck’s potential as a Batman director in the comments below!