Ben Affleck has had one of the strangest and most noteworthy careers as an actor and celebrity in the last few decades. While a lot could be said about the latter, I am more concerned with the former for the purposes of this writeup.
Affleck starred and played a prominent role in a number of films from my youth that created a soft spot in my heart for this gloriously imperfect performer. That same emotion though caused me to never closely examine him though. It felt like my fondness for him was more nostalgia than anything else.
In the last few years though, it has become obvious that there is more there than meets the eye with Affleck. He has had his share of creative DUDs and financial misfires, but that journey has also led to some genuinely great stuff. Here are the best ones.
5. Holden McNeil in too many Kevin Smith films
Patient Zero for the best Ben Affleck on-screen characterization: moron who does not know he is a moron and most definitely sees himself as the protagonist of the world. The best part is the original appearance as the main character of Chasing Amy when he is absolutely convinced at the end of the film that he has learned something and yet you just know that this guy has learned nothing about nothing. That total delusion is such a foundation of the Affleck persona, and the rest of his career is marked by his peaks and valleys as an actor largely being determined by how close or far away he is from said characterization.
4. The Town
The Town is Affleck’s masterpiece in every way. It is the only time he cast himself appropriately as an idiot who longs to be better but continues unwittingly on his path of destruction on all the lives he comes in contact with all the while mostly escaping punishment free. It is almost TOO on the nose, but that is very thematically appropriate for such a good dumb crime film.
In a remarkable turn of events, Ben Affleck has established himself as a top tier portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman. The key to the character is his self-delusion and the fact that he is so wrong about everything which gets compounded by his defining stubbornness and need for total and complete certainty in order to function. Despite twenty years of cleaning up Gotham, it is still a shithole by all accounts. When faced with the prospect of a being like Superman, Bruce clung to the idea that he needed to protect the world from him to compensate for his unspoken failures in Gotham. When forced to confront how badly he botched, he convinces himself that swinging to the complete opposite end of the pendulum will fix everything. He has no means of coping with confronting his own failure in any way that would be helpful long term. Instead it just leads to him in this film creating bigger problems and “losing more slowly” despite his stated policy of avoiding doing just that. An iconic portrayal of pop culture’s most popular sociopath.
2. To the Wonder
There is more to filmmakers than producing material for acting reels, and there is more to acting than dialogue. The spiritual (pun not intended) Malick trilogy of To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and Song to Song showcase these ideas perfectly, and Affleck does the job quite well. He fully embodies so many broad ideas, but you can tell exactly everything you need to know about the character nonetheless. There is a great tragedy to the character’s lack of self-awareness and the inevitable pain that will follow the ominously happy opening act. And Affleck is a master of portraying lack any and all ability to reflect on oneself.
Truly the ultimate role for Ben Affleck. The total and complete idiot who has so little idea that he is an idiot until he can weaponize it to protect himself. Affleck effortlessly inhabits Nick Dunne fully. There is not a moment here where you do not full buy what he is selling here, and Affleck masterfully truly makes you root for him despite all rhyme or reason. It was also a genius casting decision to utilize the Ben Affleck celebrity persona as a shortcut for both his characterization in the film and for the overall absurdist tone of the film.
Final Thoughts: Ben Affleck is really good at playing an idiot who does not know he is an idiot. Suspiciously good. Almost too good.