Audiences may not realize it quite yet, but it’s going to be a considerable leap for Ben Affleck going from his heroic role as Tony Mendez in “Argo” to a fictional, withdrawn husband in Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder.” Even though Affleck goes back to looking clean-shaven and short hair in the latter film, his acting approach will adhere to the Malick philosophy: Be as terse as possible and let expressions be your guide. Whether Affleck’s fans can stand seeing him be so quiet is another matter.
Not that it probably matters to Affleck who already has lifetime job security with his best picture Oscar win for “Argo.” In an alternate universe where “Argo” lost its Oscars to “Lincoln”, it might have worried Affleck going from a popular box office movie with plenty of garrulousness to an art film that’s atypical of his usual acting approach. Although it could still give some fans the impression that he’s aiming to do more daring projects.
This isn’t to say he shouldn’t, despite still being vulnerable to box office ups and downs. He obviously doesn’t want another “Gigli” on his resume. “To the Wonder”, though, isn’t likely going to do well considering its artful nature, which could put a damper on Affleck’s cinematic momentum.
The best thing about starring in a Malick movie is that everybody wants to and only does so out of artistic respect rather than worrying about career momentum or box office. Nevertheless, the adage of only being as good as your last movie may be a detriment in the odd timing of “To the Wonder” releasing after “Argo.” But if this is a transformational role for Affleck that audiences may not like, what is it fans want to see in an Affleck performance?
Those magic ingredients are almost always dialogue, and lots of it. He also has a magnetic presence on the screen that may be a mere shadow playing introverted and glum Neil in “Wonder.” It’s said that most of the dialogue was improvised as well, leaving Affleck in all new territory trying to stand out on screen.
It’s a far cry from the Boston-oriented movies Affleck has sometimes gravitated to in his most inspired movies. Similarly to the characteristics of his childhood town of Boston, being up-front, honest, and talkative is what’s made Affleck’s roles so popular, starting all the way back to his Chuckie Sullivan character in “Good Will Hunting.” You can’t say Affleck isn’t a master of dialogue after remembering he and Matt Damon won their “Will Hunting” Oscar for Best Screenplay.
With that in mind, it may be best if Affleck promotes the formation of a new project while “To the Wonder” debuts so fans won’t think he’s doing a quantum leap transformation. Reportedly, he’s currently filming a new thriller about online gambling with Justin Timberlake called “Runner, Runner.” Chances are if he’s playing a gambler, the dialogue will take him back to the salty language we’re used to seeing him utter with aplomb.
If Affleck’s Malick transformation is only fleeting, it’s ironic that his true film calling card is being more verbose. That’s especially true when so many realize the artfulness of being quiet with just the right actor.