One of my favorite movies last year was The Last Duel, which featured a villain played by Ben Affleck with blonde hair. Every moment he was on the screen was fun and devious. Affleck also stars in a supporting role in the recent The Tender Bar, which was directed by George Clooney.
The Affleck resurgence probably came years ago, when he started directing tight crime thrillers, but his turns in front of the camera these past few years have been a revelation. He was great Batman, but his work in The Way Back proved he should still be in the Oscar discussions.
Recently, he sat down with friend Matt Damon (and Entertainment Weekly) to talk about his comeback and dish on what he's been doing recently, and what he thinks the future holds.
When it came to Affleck's comeback, Damon noted it involved theatrical movies, albeit movies that didn't always do well. Affleck gave a thoughtful answer to the idea that cinema is changing, even with him inside these movies.
"You know, I won't hedge, because that's always boring. I will say, when The Way Back came out, it was released the week they closed the theaters [for the pandemic]. But even before then I knew this movie about grief and a child dying and alcoholism and recovery is just not going to get adults in the seats. We were just talking about Narcos: Mexico, Succession, Mare of Easttown. There's these amazing things being done on streamers. Roma! It's not just some formulaic TV procedural like when we were kids. And you could only watch it like my dad, on an 11-inch black-and-white TV. If I had to bet, a drama like Argo would not be made theatrically now. That wasn't that long ago. It would be a limited series. I think movies in theaters are going to become more expensive, event-ized. They're mostly going to be for younger people, and mostly about 'Hey, I'm so into the Marvel Universe, I can't wait to see what happens next.' And there'll be 40 movies a year theatrically, probably, all IP, sequel, animated. The Last Duel really clinched it for me. I've had bad movies that didn't work and I didn't blink. I know why people didn't go—because they weren't good. But I liked what we did. I like what we had to say. I'm really proud of it. So I was really confused. And then to see that it did well on streaming, I thought, 'Well, there you go. That's where the audience is.'"
That's a long and involved answer, but I think Affleck hits the nail on the head.
Theatrical is changing so much, so rapidly. COVID obviously sped things up, but there's a reckoning going on as people figure out which audiences are actually turning up for movies. One thing is for sure, people are streaming titles, which seems to be just as important now.
Affleck was in one of the most-streamed movies the other year, Zac Snyder's Justice League. Affleck briefly spoke about what it was like being in the original version of that movie, saying:
"I had a really nadir experience around Justice League for a lot of different reasons. Not blaming anybody, there's a lot of things that happened. But really what it was is that I wasn't happy. I didn't like being there. I didn't think it was interesting. And then some really shitty things, awful things happened. But, that's when I was like, I'm not going to do that anymore."
That seemed to mark a change for him and caused him to bounce into chasing things he did find interesting and challenging.
Affleck is humble when talking about the choices he's made writing and directing. He talked about taking gigs because they were the ones that came to him, like Surviving Christmas. And he also talks about becoming a filmmaker and learning to make choices thanks to advice, and not his own headstrong behavior. He notes that even filmic geniuses are wrong lots of the time.
"Everyone's got bad ideas. Like David Fincher, who is brilliant, every now and again, you go, 'Hmm, I don't know.' But then you find out he has the humility to go, 'Oh, huh.'"
Now Affleck is back in The Tender Bar and his career feels like it has a new vigor to it. He's undergone this transformation many times before, from indie darling to blockbuster face, to Academy Award-winning director, and everything in between. What are you most excited about when it comes to Affleck's next stage of his career?
Let us know in the comments.