Ben Affleck has long been a filmmaker scrutinised in front of the camera, behind the camera and in his personal life, making the very idea of Affleck as a star celebrity perhaps even more powerful than the idea of Affleck as an artist. Even so, he can proudly boast the titles of actor, screenwriter, producer and director across his topsy-turvy twenty plus year career, and even has a few BAFTAs and Oscars to show for it.
Recently, the public perception of Affleck has changed once again from a renaissance man on the cusp of a great directorial career courtesy of back to back critical successes, to a man once again entangled with his own vices and a directorial career in question following a huge financial flop and his ousting from the directors chair for Warner Bros’ hotly anticipated The Batman.
Whether he’ll even so much as play Batman again remains to be seen, though in this list we shan’t be concerning ourselves with that. Instead, we’ll be looking at Ben Affleck as a director and ranking each of his directorial features from worst to best.
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4. Live By Night (2017)
The biggest financial flop of Affleck’s directorial career, Live By Night was so damned by audiences that it ultimately lost Affleck his place in the director’s chair for his own Batman movie. The crime drama, centred around New York and Florida gangs during the prohibition era, starred Affleck in the lead role alongside a plethora of talented names including Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana and Chris Messina, the latter of whom believed so much in the project that he gained 40 pounds to play his character Dion Bartolo. The stacked cast – a feature of each of Affleck’s directorial pieces to date – wasn’t enough to bring in audiences, and the expected awards season push didn’t come, leaving many prominent voices to exclaim that the film was “like a ghost of a sensational movie” and “the worst of his excellent filmography to date”.
Live By Night is far from a bad film, but given its subject matter and the lack of popularity for gangster films in the modern era, it had to be nigh-on impossibly great to be greeted with open arms by audiences and critics, and it simply wasn’t that. It is, as of this date, Affleck’s worst directed feature, though that is far from the criticism it may be in other editions of Ranked; a fact that pays testament to Affleck’s overall quality of work in the director’s chair.
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 upon 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; the first of his major artistic contributions to cinema.
2. The Town (2010)
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, a furthering of the themes explored 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 or celebrated by the audience throughout.
The Town is a very good watch for those who are appreciative of talented performers offering layered and interesting characters under the tutelage of a director with a point to prove and a clear growing 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 screenplay that features a little more comic relief than those of his previous outings.
Ranking in number one for its contemporary contextualisation of this filmmaker’s ongoing themes, its 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 his career.
In conclusion, Ben Affleck could be considered one of the most promising directors of the past decade and must be given the opportunity to further his directorial output in the future, whether it’s with his on and off again partners at Warner Bros or elsewhere. His 2012 release Argo may be the overall winner of this edition of Ranked, but there is no mistaking that Affleck’s filmography makes for impressive viewing; the sort of run that even some of the most established filmmakers haven’t been able to achieve.
So, what do you think? Did we get the order correct? Would you say Ben Affleck is better or worse than the public perception of him would have us believe? Let us know in the comments below!