Dan Gertler Reviews: Ben Affleck

While many actors and actresses try their luck with filmmaking after establishing a successful acting career, Ben Affleck seems to me the only one who was actually born to do both. From his acting and directing career to his personal humanitarian activities in the Congo area, here’s why Affleck deserves your attention.

Affleck was born on August 1972 in Berkley, California. From early childhood he was exposed to artists and political activists, and was encouraged by his mother to produce home-made-films and gain acting experiences. He also made friends with Matt Damon at the age of 8, and the two became practically inseparable. I guess “Good Will Hunting” (1997) is in some way a reflection of this friendship or at least a product of it. After all, it’s hard not to compare the friendship of Will (Damon) and Chuckie (Affleck) and the though upbringing they went through to the real-life childhood of the actors (who also wrote the screenplay themselves). Coming from such an honest place, it’s no wonder the film was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, out of which it won 2 (Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay).
1998 was an important year for Affleck since “Armageddon”, in which he starred alongside Bruce Willis, established him as a most fitting actor for the big screen. Affleck’s charisma, charm and intelligence began to be recognized, and in that same year he played in “Shakespeare In Love”, alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, who was at the time his girlfriend. The film won no less than 7 Academy Awards. Affleck also tried his luck in comedy, starring opposite Sandra Bullock in “Forces of Nature” (1999). But it quickly became clear that his aspirations were greater than this.

After several years of acting and producing Affleck finally made his directorial debut with “Gone Baby Gone” (2007). This, however, did not mean that he abandoned acting – “He’s just not that Into You” (2009), where he starred opposite Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Aniston was a great success. But Affleck really proved his talent in “The Town (2010) and “Argo” (2012), which he both directed and starred in. “Argo”, the story a CIA operation to save U.S. diplomats who were stranded in Iran during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis combines suspense empathy, and rightly won Affleck and Academy Award for Best Picture. But the suspense and empathy evident in both his acting and directing style are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his understanding of the troubles of others.

In 2007 Affleck became interested in philanthropy and was particularly concerned about the abuses of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After familiarizing himself with the situation by making trips and meeting those involved, he tried to increase awareness to the problem through filmmaking and reports. Wanting to do more, Affleck, together with Whitney Williams, co-founded the Eastern Congo Initiative in 2010. This NGO grants funds to already existing organizations operating in the Congo that deal with anything from sexual violence to health care and education. Affleck’s focus is broader than others’ since he aims at influencing policymakers and the media in the West, and his efforts are not just grass-roots. But his increasing involvement in the political aspect did not subtract from his hands-on approach as he continues his fund-raising and his small-NGO’s cultivation.

As for us, film-lovers, we can only hope that Affleck’s humanitarian drive would not take him away from the world of film. So far it seems that he can do both.

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