Remember when you used to say, “Hey, even Ben Affleck‘s got an Oscar,” in regards to the success found in something or someone otherwise mediocre? It seems unlikely that phrase is ever going to make a comeback given that he’s just won his second Oscar. Unless of course he decides to pull a swan dive the likes of which we’ve only ever seen from M. Night Shyamalan. But what makes his movies so impressive? A guy who at one point spent the greater part of ten years in between Kevin Smith movies and mediocre action films shouldn’t be able to suddenly bounce back from that kind of history. In just a few years time he’s managed to make an implausible evolution into a very capable director. How? What’s his secret? Seriously, how?
Ang Lee knows how to make the image pop. Tarantino knows how to make the characters sing along the beautiful melody of his dialogue. James Cameron knows how to breathe life into a world and proceed to tear it down in the most remarkable and memorable way. Affleck, despite only having a few movies under his belt, knows something that made him perfect for Argo in a way that all of these other directors, wouldn’t have been able to pull off to the same degree. Affleck knows his tension. Now of course tension runs through the movies all of these directors make. Will Bruce Banner escape General Ross, will Stuntman Mike run the girls off the road, will Harry Tasker stop the terrorists from detonating a nuke and save his daughter? You’re watching, waiting to see what happens next, because you don’t know. Argo is a story the majority of the people in the theater already know. But the entire time you’re watching it, you’re riveted. Then the doubt starts creeping in. By the end you no longer know what’s going to happen. The answer is there, but you still have to ask the question!
He can jack up the tension in ways the others don’t. Tarantino’s action, though incredibly entertaining, at its base level is cartoonish. Uma Thurman can’t slice through the crazy 88s the way she did in a grounded and realistic movie. The marines in Cameron’s Aliens aren’t characters so much as they are moving targets for the Xenomorphs to pick off. But now, look at Affleck’s first feature film, Gone Baby Gone. At one point a young P.I. is facing off against two coke heads while trying to prevent a cop from bleeding out because they think a known pedophile inside their house has a kidnapped child. It’s slowly layered on one piece at a time, carefully and methodically. You care about the young P.I. You care about the kid. A cop just got shot, proving that these people aren’t just addicts, but they are completely off their hinges. Affleck stacks the deck against his characters in a way that no one else in recent memory has. It’s the same in Argo. Can these people escape when the entire country knows their faces?
In a roundtable interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Affleck used a metaphor to describe the progression of directors and their work as time goes on. “Directors are like tuning forks,” He said. “You come out here, make your first movie BING, you hit the fork. And for a while it stays in tune. And then at a certain point, it just goes out of tune, and it never comes back.” It’s a rather apt metaphor if you look at the directions some directors have taken (like M. Night Shyamalan). With any luck Affleck’s won’t go out of tune anytime soon.
Watch the entire uncensored director’s roundtable below: