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Starring Ben Affleck, the Director

Ever since Good Will Hunting changed his and friend Matt Damon's fortunes Affleck has been fighting the tag of being just a pretty face, writes Gautam Chintamani.

brunch Updated: Jan 25, 2013 17:30 IST
Gautam Chintamani

For anyone else to watch their film get seven Oscar nominations including one for Best Picture, and not being acknowledged for piecing it all together wouldn't be easy but for Ben Affleck things have been far worse in the past. Ever since Good Will Hunting changed his and friend Matt Damon's fortunes Affleck has been fighting the tag of being just a pretty face. Blessed with classic film star looks many didn't think he would last as long as Damon or even his other contemporaries like Edward Norton or Leonardo Dicaprio. But Affleck's foray into direction along with critically acclaimed films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo have not only shown that he's come a long way from being a good looking star but also places him in a different league.

Affleck and Damon came up with Good Will Hunting with the idea of playing the leads and refused to part with the script unless that condition was met. One of the oldest ploys in the book for struggling actors, this method had turned Sylvester Stallone from a virtual unknown into an international star with Rocky and won Affleck-Damon an Oscar for screen writing. Good Will Hunting was an instant hit that catapulted the two into global stardom but while leading man parts poured in for both, most of the critical acclaim was reserved for Damon.

Watching Damon play one interesting character after another, Affleck went through the motions of being a regular hero and appeared perfunctory in films like Man About Town, Gigli, Smoking Aces seemed. Like the time he was pushed against the wall before he came up with Good Will Hunting Affleck, once again, challenged himself and surprised many by donning the director's mantle. Actors shifting gears to direct isn't something uncommon but Affleck's debut as a director was a film that many wouldn't have associated with him. Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane Gone Baby Gone was a macabre tale of a kidnapping gone wrong, something that the audiences might have not accepted Affleck, the actor, in and hence he chose not to feature in front of the camera. Directing bestowed Affleck with a sense of freedom he never really enjoyed as an actor and in tandem with a three-year hiatus he took from acting between 2006-09 ushered in a new phase for him. His acting jobs displayed more enthusiasm - State of Play, The Company Men and his second directorial venture The Town confirmed that this part-time job could very well be the course of the future.

Affleck's basic nature goes against the tenets of the archetypal film star. The manner in which he stuck to his guns when it came to Good Will Hunting and the subjects he picked up as director display his inherent flair to take risks unlike the Damons, Nortons or Dicaprios. The response that Argo generated would have surprised even Affleck and now that he's being viewed as one of the most promising filmmakers around who knows he could end up being his generation's Clint Eastwood. Like Eastwood, or even Robert Redford, Affleck was always a star first but mirroring the two he's managing to make a very interesting transition. In spite of directing a film considered to be an important cinematic event besides being one of the year's best, Affleck was overlooked for an Academy Award nomination.

In a year that has witnessed two abjectly pro-US films like Argo and Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, who along with Affleck was also ignored for a Best Director nomination, being lauded across categories but for direction somewhere reeks of Oscar's hypocrisy. According to rumors Bigelow's insistence to retain graphic torture scenes in her tale of C.I.A.'s search for Osama Bin Laden cost her the nod but there's no plausible explanation for Affleck's brushoff. Argo is based on real events and while it does glorify the C.I.A. during the Iran hostage crisis it isn't, as some quarters suggest, Anti-Islam. Rather it questions US actions and even blames the country for creating trouble in Iran. One can't help but wonder if the Academy would have acted in the same manner had a 'regular' director helmed the film. Affleck's rebuff might be remembered for a long time like Martin Scorsese's regular snubs till 2007's Departed, and more than anyone it's Affleck who knows that such a compliment is bigger than most awards.

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