Ben Affleck's Best Movies
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Runner Runner star.
Once upon a time, it looked like Ben Affleck might spend the rest of his career in little-seen duds like Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas -- a precipitous fall for a guy who won an Oscar at the age of 25 and starred in blockbusters like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and The Sum of All Fears. Now just look how things have changed: Having reinvented himself as a critically lauded director with 2007's Gone Baby Gone, Ben's back in front of the camera this weekend in Runner Runner, playing the sleazy head of an online gambling empire who lures a college student (Justin Timberlake) into his operation. What better time to take a fond look back at Mr. Affleck's critical highlights, Total Recall style?
Ben Affleck knows a thing or two about actors who take jobs for the wrong reason and end up paying for it -- and that knowledge, along with his lantern-jawed good looks, made him a natural for Hollywoodland. Helmed by first-time feature director Allen Coulter, this fact-based drama looks at the final days of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the long-running Adventures of Superman television series. Reeves' mysterious death is probed by a private detective named Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), whose own messy private life shadows the investigation; though the case was never solved, Simo's sleuthing traces an outline of what might have been for the audience. A modest commercial success, Hollywoodland earned Affleck a Golden Globe nomination and strong praise from critics like Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who urged his readers, "Take my word for it: Hollywoodland is well worth seeing."
Not one of Affleck's most widely seen pictures, this adaptation of Dan Wakefield's 1970 novel won a Sundance award (for production design, but still). It also warmed the thorny cockles of most critics -- no small achievement considering that the story, about the small-town struggles of a pair of Korean War vets (Affleck and Jeremy Davies), hits many of the same beats as plenty of other coming-of-age dramas. While recognizing its derivative aspects, most critics found Going All the Way ultimately worthwhile -- like Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle, who conceded, "Even if it's too self-conscious, Going All the Way, set in 1950s Indianapolis, nevertheless has a mix of the sweet and the forlorn that somehow works."
Notting Hill director Roger Michell tackled a decidedly more serious topic with 2002's Changing Lanes, a tension-filled drama about the war of attrition that erupts after a car accident involving a beleaguered insurance salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) and a lawyer (Affleck). Examining uncommonly thorny themes of race and privilege, wrapped up in good old-fashioned high-octane Hollywood thrills, Lanes wasn't quite the box office smash it seemed poised to become, but it enjoyed praise from critics like Robert Koehler of Variety, who appreciated the way it "combines a knack for storytelling with a rare instinct for exploring ideas within the framework of a major, star-driven Hollywood movie."
Affleck joined a star-studded cast for this adapation of the BBC miniseries, appearing alongside Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, and Jason Bateman in the story of a reporter (Crowe) investigating the murder of a woman who worked (in more ways than one) for a Congressman (Affleck) who just happens to have been his college roommate. Like most conspiracy flicks, State of Play hinges on a multitude of plot twists and unlikely coincidences, but most critics were too happy to find a rare adult thriller to complain. "The journalist in me loved State of Play," wrote Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The moviegoer in me even more so."
6. Chasing Amy
Before Good Will Hunting made him a household name, Affleck came into his own with Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith's frank tragicomedy about the unlikely romance between a comic book artist (Affleck) and his lesbian crush (Joey Lauren Adams). The sort of small, thoughtful feature that Affleck would slowly drift away from after achieving his post-Hunting success, Amy found Smith regaining his critical mojo after Mallrats, and gave Affleck some of the best dialogue of his career. "What really makes the film special," posited Kevin N. Laforest of the Montreal Film Journal, "is that, while still being packed with foul language and pop culture references, this film is the only one in which Smith really seems to care about his characters and their lives."