Ben Affleck has acted in some truly horrible movies. After citing the Oscar he won with his best friend, Affleck's resume reads like a list of the worst movies from the late '90s that we all thought were sorta okay at the time (just like Sugar Ray). In 2003, he killed his career as a leading man with the three-punch combo of Daredevil, Gigli and Jersey Girl. But those critical and box-office failures led to Affleck's re-flexing his freakishly tall writing-and-directing muscles, and a newly ripped (with talent) Ben delivered Gone Baby Gone and The Town, two amazing additions to the pantheon of kickass Boston crime movies (playing tonight as a double feature at the Denver FilmCenter as the finale of their Beantown noir series). If only he had directed himself in his worst failures, maybe they'd be pretty good movies. Here's how they'd be different. Daredevil Originally written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson
In a lot of ways, Daredevil has a lot going for it -- especially the director's cut, which is like an entirely different movie (the plot makes a lot more sense and you can see the action). It could even be argued that the cheesiness of it is actually the purest possible cinematic interpretation of Frank Miller's writing, which can come off great in panels while making you slightly vomit in your mouth when real, live-action people are saying and doing Millerish things on screen.
It takes a somewhat visionary director to pull that style off, as it either has to be filtered into something operatic, gritty and timeless (like DePalma's Scarface), or heavily stylized. (See the difference between 300 and Sin City: One is a stylized Miller adaptation by a director with an incredible eye, and one is a wonderfully cast motion-comic with no weight or anything resembling the art of cinema beyond the modernity that comes with making everything into a cheap computer graphic.) The thing you especially don't do is attempt to direct the movie the way you think Miller would. (Have you seen The Spirit? It's okay -- we've tried to forget too.)
Mark Steven Johnson is not a visionary director. He's a comic-book movie workhorse who manages to attach himself to mid-budget projects and attempts to quiet fan grumblings by throwing around "respect to the original material" in pre-production interviews. After this he went on to direct Ghost Rider and then somehow finangled his way into an HBO adaptation of Preacher, which, thank Jesse Custer, fell through. His most recent movie was the mediocre rom-com (really, aren't most of them mediocre anymore? What happened to Nora Ephron?) When in Rome, which is mostly famous among people I know for using a song produced by some local boys that made good in its promotional material.
Ben Affleck, however, was a great choice for Daredevil. He's a massive, brooding Irish dude with the ability to switch back and forth between absolute loneliness and sadness and extreme anger. Affleck may be good-looking, but the dude can be scary, especially all dressed up in a red padded leather jumpsuit, flying through the air, about to knock you senseless with a billy club. Despite being attractive, he ain't pretty; it's entirely possible to believe this kid grew up on the streets. Affleck would make a terrible Batman -- the baggage he'd bring to the role would be a nice addition of recklessness, Catholic guilt/hypocrisy and an inner core that seems like he'd be more comfortable breaking thumbs as a loan shark enforcer. Luckily, Daredevil is Batman + Catholicism, thuggery and recklessness (how do you think he got his name? Dude just jumps off buildings hoping there's something to grab onto on the way down). Oh, yeah -- he's blind, too.
What Affleck would do: Affleck gets Daredevil. One of his best friends wrote a seminal run on the book (Affleck wrote the forward for the TPB), and he supposedly took the part when he realized the other actors being courted had never read the comic. He thought he had an innate understanding after his years of fannery (that is SO a word).
Gone Baby Gone and The Town are the things you get when you Google "gritty + operatic" and hit "I'm Feeling Lucky." They're movies about flawed, violent, street-level heroes who would be awful people if only they didn't have that pesky inner moral code -- it's certainly easier for them. They have to fight their very nature as often as they fight their literal villains.
Hell's Kitchen is as much as part of Daredevil as the red jumpsuit. As cliche a trope of criticism it is to say it, the city has to be another character in the film. Affleck would understand this the way he understands all the facets of Daredevil. Like The Town, Daredevil would deconstruct the city, exploring the environment that creates criminals and sociopaths (Daredevil is, in many ways, both).
At its heart, The Town is pulp. It's like a well-made B-noir from the early days of classical Hollywood, complete with a melodramatic romance mostly separate from sex; action sequences where the hero manages to evade the police without hurting them seriously; and hoods that range from Bogart-style to Cagney at his craziest (the worst get punished, the ones with a code are martyred heroes).
That's really all Daredevil has to be.
And if you watch those flicks, you won't hear a single nu-metal song, and they sure as hell didn't launch the career of anything remotely like Evanescence. (Did you know Daredevil launched the career of Evanescence? My Immortal is actually part of the score. Seriously, Amy Lee is in the booth singing with the orchestra during the recording of the Daredevil score. She has on very pale makeup.) That fact alone would make Affleck's Daredevil worth it.
Gigli Originally written and directed by Martin Brest (who's done nothing since)
Supposedly, the studio got its hands on Gigli and fucked it up. There is, sincerely, nothing we can think of that would make Brest's movie better, other than setting every print of it that ever existed on fire -- hopefully, before it was ever released. Here's what the movie is about: Ben Affleck plays a guy named Gigli. Okay, we're already not doing so well. He's a low-level Mafia stooge, and he's ordered to kidnap Rainman, who's the younger brother of the prosecutor charging his boss. He does so by promising to take the kid to the land of Baywatch (seriously).
Gigli gets help from lesbian Jennifer Lopez, so at least that part makes sense, because the two have absolutely no on-screen chemistry. Except then he turns her straight. With his charm. And then his sexual prowess. The two kidnappers really like Rainman, so when they're ordered to cut off his thumb, they cut a thumb off of a random corpse. Gigli's boss, Al Pacino, finds out and shoots Gigli's buddy, but they talk him out of killing anyone else. Geelee and used-to-be-a-lesbian JLo take Rainman to the beach, where, miraculously, an episode of Baywatch is shooting. Then they leave town, 'cause they're being chased by a really stupid detective played by Christopher Walken, who couldn't figure out that Rainman is kidnapped one room over. This all takes 121 minutes.
Martin Brest has made some decent movies. What the hell was he thinking? Maybe this was his way of forcing himself to retire.
It's an awful movie with a core of an overused crime story (I kidnapped him, but I like him now), too many characters, no consistent throughline and a main character that's as annoying as he is broad and stupid. Walken is good in it, but he's good in everything. The man gives his all in Balls of Fury, for goodness sake.
What Affleck would do: Ensemble that bitch. Gone Baby Gone and The Town are long movies, but they're long because Affleck periodically pauses the throughline to develop the other characters. This makes the length of the films and the pause in momentum worth it. Suddenly there's a reason for the breadth of the cast; they all fit in somewhere.
I'd much rather learn about a character's choices than watch another long fantasy where the Rainman kid raps. Yes. FANTASY RAPPING. The best part of making an ensemble movie? Mooks like Gigli are one character of many, as opposed to, you know, the main character. This movie is the equivalent of shooting Gone Baby Gone as the story of coke dealer Bubba Rogowski, who's in about two scenes (note: He is very effective and scary).
There's a whole history of the detective that seems befuddled while being highly capable. Is there anyone alive right now more suited to befuddled but deadly than Christopher Walken? Just combine two parts -- take SNL-census-sketch/googly-eye-plants Walken and combine him with True Romance/Suicide Kings Walken.
The battle of wits between an attractive female mob enforcer (who's trying to prove herself in the mob world despite being not-Italian, not-male and not-straight) with a goofy mook sidekick and a capable, seasoned, secretly badass detective is the just the kind of hybridization this kind of trite crime story needs. Secretly, it'd be a movie about clashing cultures -- take the old conservative crime world, including a cop who's seen it all (and is probably from, you know, Boston), and move it California. There's an entire culture of California crime separate from the old-school East Coasters (see The Maltese Falcon, where a classical hard-boiled dick goes up against the gay mafia in San Francisco). What's more classically California liberal than a Latina lipstick lesbian? It's like an exploitation crime novel from the '40s come to life.
In case you haven't been reading, that's what Affleck does. Please, Ben. Give us a scary Walken again.
Jersey Girl Originally written and directed by Kevin Smith
Feel bad for Kevin Smith. Since Chasing Amy, he's directed nothing but bombs and done nothing in his public persona but whine and blame everyone around him for the godawful shittiness of his movies. Right now, he's touring with his sort-of horror movie about the Westboro Baptist Church, maintaining that he's revolutionizing indie theatrical distribution while using a model that's, like, 100 years old, and backed by a few million dollars from his studio-exec pals.
But also imagine that you're a chubby guy with the incredible amount of insecurity he obviously has, then make your best friend gorgeous and talented and pretty much funnier (especially with the self-deprecation) than you are. But that's okay: He's an actor, and you're a writer. Oops, he won an Oscar for writing. That's okay, you're a director (of little to no skill). He's directing a movie now. And it's amazing.
It's like Shaggy 2 Dope's little brother starts rapping and turns out to be Jay-Z. Jersey Girl was Kevin Smith's first movie without the stoner duo of Jay and Silent Bob, and thus his step into adulthood, out of his shared Jersey universe where everyone talks about dicks all day. Ben Affleck loses his wife (Jenny from the Block) during childbirth and has to take on being a single dad, causing him to ruin his high-paying career, even though a shit-ton of women manage to do this every day without help from Grandpa George Carlin. Affleck hates his life and his daughter and acts like a dick to everyone around him, including Liv Tyler, whom he meets and falls in love with. In the end, Affleck has to choose between getting back his old, prestigous job, and going to perform a song from Sweeney Todd with his daughter in the school's talent show.
The movie's really not awful as much as it is useless. It's cloying, it's sentimental and it sits somewhere in the range of bad-to-not-so-bad. This is one instance where all the hate put upon it really is maybe not so much Smith's fault as much as everyone really hating Bennifer. It's Kevin Smith's When in Rome, except not charming at all. And if it was supposed to be him growing outward, it let everyone know that he should retreat as fast as possible back into satisfying his cult with dick jokes. It'd be like Woody Allen making an action movie, although while it would probably be terrible, I'm sure it would also be better than Smith's entire filmography. And after it got panned Woody Allen wouldn't spend all his time tweeting about how much he hates critics.
What Affleck would do: Affleck is pretty awful in this movie. There's a real feeling of notgivingashit but doingmyfriendafavor. Not to mention his salary was almost a third of the movie's entire budget. The first thing Affleck would do is cast his brother -- because in a movie without crime tropes or gunfights, you need someone who can carry the movie on a performance, who can be both sad and affable, someone funny and smart, but lacking in something neccesary and basic for his own happiness -- someone who is a way, way better actor than Ben.
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Casey Affleck has made a career of choosing really good movies and then elevating them to great by virtue of his own performance (The Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone), and he's done it all playing really dark characters. I'd really like to see the man laugh again (when was the last time? Good Will Hunting?). This is the kind of story that needs to be made personal to work as anything beyond formula -- Affleck has a daughter now (Smith has a daughter, too, but he obviously put none of her into Gertie, otherwise she'd be something other than a precocious sidekick outcast from an 80s movie), and more to the point -- he's been through this fall from professional grace. Affleck has obviously fucked up his career, found solace in himself and his family and then returned to succeed in the place he was meant to be all along.
Affleck even has a chubby funny best friend that could play the charming chubby self-effacing sidekick (he did it for Jennifer Garner). The man finds a place to let personality shine through, even in moving crime pictures. Given something truly personal, there's a real opporunity to explore something deeper than rushing through traffic to get to your kid's talent show on time.
This article says Ben Affleck is good looking a lot. That's because he really is. It also says he's talented quite a bit. There's because he really, really is. Don't believe us? Get over to the Denver FilmCenter/Cofax for the Ben Affleck double feature tonight at 7:30. If we're wrong, you can totally beat us up, Southie style (as long as we don't have to marry Jennifer Lopez).