Goodbye 'Gigli,' Hello the New Ben Affleck


In the company men, Bobby Walker is a Porsche-driving golden boy laid off from his middle-management job. He smugly expects an easy landing somewhere, but the economy has other plans, which is how he ends up delivering one of the most wrenching lines in a movie that’s full of them: “I’m a 37-year-old unemployed loser who can’t support his family.”

Writer-director John Wells surrounds Bobby with other all-too-real characters, including a senior manager (Chris Cooper) too old to start over and an exec whose conscience costs him his job (Tommy Lee Jones). But as the once-confident success who is forced to move his family back into his parents’ house, it’s Bobby who is the heart of this timely, poignant film.

Maybe that’s because Ben Affleck, the 38-year-old actor who plays him, knows something about career free-fall. One day Affleck was picking up an Oscar, the next laughed off as a Hollywood loser. Now Affleck is being acclaimed not just for starring in The Company Men but for directing and acting in the explosive heist movie The Town. What’s behind the rise and fall and rise of Ben Affleck? He can’t blame the economy, unless you’re talking about the bear market for jerks. Affleck’s wounds were self-inflicted—bad career choices coupled with even worse personal ones. All of which makes his hard-won, self-made renaissance that much more amazing.

When he and Matt Damon won the Academy Award for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, Affleck was considered the team’s dumb half. The movie was, in fact, Ben and Matt’s way of exerting control over their careers by writing juicy roles for themselves. It may have worked too well. After humbly bringing his mother as his date to the Oscars, Affleck decided to play movie star. He started taking Ken-doll roles in turkeys such as Pearl Harbor. Offscreen, he and then-fiancée Jennifer Lopez flashed her gaudy six-carat pink-diamond ring across the infotainment universe, endlessly. Their nickname was the ur-mashup—Bennifer begat TomKat which begat Brangelina. And Affleck was complicit. He and Lopez let NBC’s Dateline cameras into the kitchen while they cooked; together, they made Gigli. That notorious bomb wasn’t really so horrible—it’s garden-variety bad, not off-the-charts unwatchable. But by then, the press and public had turned on Affleck.

Then, after a few years of banishment from the A-list, he returned to his hungry, early days, directing the gritty, fast-paced Gone Baby Gone in 2006. Gone Baby Gone was his way of making everyone else—the paparazzi, the gossip columnists, casting directors—irrelevant. He slowly began to shake off his image as a loser with a gambling addiction. Around the same time, he married actress Jennifer Garner and started a family. He’s earned the movie industry’s respect, with an accent on earned: The Town has made more than $144 million at the box office worldwide, nearly four times its budget.

The reenergized Affleck seems to be taking more time and care with his decisions. His next role will be in a new (untitled) Terrence Malick film, one of filmdom’s prestigious gigs. After that, he’s kept quiet, about acting or directing. Affleck knows how fast a career can tumble. He also knows that in Hollywood, land of endless dreams, everything that crashes can rise again.