Total Recall: Ben Affleck's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Town star.
A mere six years ago, 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 (and behind) the camera this weekend with one of the season's most anticipated films -- The Town. What better time to take a fond look back at his critical highlights, Total Recall style?
10. Boiler Room
It may seem like a figment of our collective imagination now, but the mid-to-late 1990s bore witness to an explosion of wealth, partially driven by increased easy access to the stock market -- as well as the sort of reprehensible shenanigans detailed in Boiler Room, the Ben Younger drama about a young scofflaw (Giovanni Ribisi) who tries to make good by joining a brokerage house, only to find himself at the center of an FBI investigation targeting the firm. As the Ferrari-flashing Jim Young, Affleck was at his most convincingly oily and insincere -- and he walked away with some of the movie's most quotable lines. Boiler Room wasn't a huge hit with audiences, but critics saw its merits -- including Susan Stark of the Detroit News, who wrote, "You won't find a movie that taps more directly into the jugular of the greed-fueled late '90s."
Affleck reunited with his buddies Matt Damon and Kevin Smith for this surprisingly nuanced look at religion, which follows embittered fallen angels Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon) on their quest to exploit a theological loophole in order to get back into Heaven. To prevent them from carrying out their plan -- which will wipe out all of existence, whoops -- the angel Metatron (Alan Rickman) sends an unwitting descendant of Christ (Linda Fiorentino) to New Jersey, where God (Alanis Morissette) is trapped in the body of a comatose homeless man. That summary probably makes it easy to understand why religious groups (and particularly the Catholic church) were angry about Dogma even before they'd seen it, but Smith sought to challenge and provoke thought, not offend -- and most critics appreciated the effort, including Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who lauded it as "a surprisingly tender and humane movie that seems touchingly confident of God's sense of humor and infinite patience."
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 the Man of Steel 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."