Well by now, you all have heard that Ben Affleck captured Best Actor honors at the Venice Film Festival. No, it is not a misprint. The Italians apparently really love him. But how does this bear on his chances for an Academy Award? Is he automatically in the running for a nomination, or should we simply chalk this up as a fluke?
The short answer is that Big Ben should probably not be making tuxedo reservations for next March. At least not yet. First of all, Affleck’s portrayal of George Reeves in Hollywoodland is clearly a supporting, as opposed to lead role. Adrien Brody, who plays the investigator attempting to unravel the mystery, is the central character of the film and commands more screen time. Speaking of which, on a unrelated note, doesn’t it just make you chuckle to hear promoters tout Hollywoodland as featuring “Academy Award winner Adrien Brody AND Academy Award winner Ben Affleck? One won for his brilliant portrayal of a doomed pianist in a Holocaust drama. The other happened to be buddies with Matt Damon.
Back to the subject at hand. Assuming Affleck gets correctly slotted in the supporting actor category, he will face some stiff competition. Eddie Murphy has already been receiving tremendous buzz for his turn in Dreamgirls. You have an entire boatload of promising young actors vying for their breakout performance in Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers. And well respected actors like Jack Nicholson, Christian Bale, Tobey McGuire, Jude Law, Robert De Niro, and Tim Robbins all have movies coming out. Can the personable Mr. Affleck really put himself in the same league as these heavyweights?
To answer that question, we have to look more closely at Affleck’s actual performance. In Hollywoodland, Affleck assumes the role of Superman George Reeves. In the beginning of the film, he’s a young actor struggling with whether or not he has the actual talent to make it in Hollywood. Later on, once he lands the role of Superman, he is forced to deal with the price of fame. Toward the end of the film, his career is on a downward spiral, and he tries his best to ignore the criticism and snickering from people around him. Hmmm. Do a few things sound familiar here? You think there is a reason Eminem didn’t get nominated for playing a white rapper in 8 Mile?
In all fairness, Affleck’s performance is not bad. In fact, it is pretty good. But that begs the question: compared to what? Had Affleck ran around in tights for 90 minutes without uttering a word, he would probably top his performance in Gigli or Surviving Christmas. Paycheck and Reindeer Games didn’t quite involve a ton of dramatic interpretation. Pearl Harbor? Well, let’s just say there’s something amiss when your co-star is Josh Hartnett and he gets all the buzz. Bounce was a vastly underrated film and critics praised the connection between Affleck and the character played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Seriously though, how hard is it to have chemistry with someone you used to seriously date?
Finally, the quality of the film itself often determines whether or not performances are singled out for recognition. In this regard, Affleck better be pleased he’s received any award at all. Hollywoodland is a mess. The film is a maze of various subplots and storylines that don’t amount to anything. The deliberate pacing of the film is worse than if it were directed by Robert Redford. And there is absolutely no payoff in the end. Basically, it’s two hours (which feels like four) and you’ve learned nothing more than when the opening credits appeared.
Perhaps this is still hope for Ben Affleck. After all, he is only in his early thirties and you never know – the role of a lifetime may be just around the corner. Maybe it will come from Matt Damon’s computer again, once he decides to stop making a half dozen movies a year. But for now, when it comes to this year’s Academy Awards, we’re not dealing with no ESPN boxing reality series. Sorry Ben, but you’re just another pretender.