In a way, it doesn't matter. Affleck turned 40 this year and welcomed his third child and first son, Samuel. He often speaks of wife Jennifer (Garner) fondly in interviews, clearly grounded by the relationship and her presence in his life. They were married after 9 months of dating that began on the set of Daredevil, and it may or may not be coincidence that his directing career began just 2 years later with Gone Baby Gone.
Based on the novel by Denis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), Gone Baby Gone is the story of two investigators who are hired to supplement a police investigation after a 4-year-old girl goes missing in Boston. About the story itself, Affleck said, "I picked it really kind of foolishly first of all because I really liked it and because I also thought, 'You know, I’m not that good at writing plot. I don’t really want to write an original story. I’ll find something that has a story architecture that I can fall back on... and I can work on character and dialog which I feel more confident about.'" He knew that the film was pivotal for his career at the time, and attacked it with guidance from Kevin Smith and by looking to other actor/directors such as Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner. He had the unique experience of working with his brother, Casey Affleck, as the lead of the film. They challenged one another which is a lesson that Ben took with him into other directing gigs. "The worst mistakes I’ve made creatively have been when I’ve just always agreed."
His confidence grew from the experience and earned him a lot of respect as Gone Baby Gone garnered awards and spots on many top-10 lists in 2007. Rather than jumping into another project however (which would have been easy with all of the directing offers he received), he focused on his family life -- a practice which has carried into his life today. "I'm acting a lot less. And when I have the time, I think, 'It has to be a really good part, it has to be a director I want to work with.' My life's different now... I have my family. I have philanthropic work that means a lot to me. So I've definitely turned down some things. Not because I suddenly have such great taste but . . . maturity, I guess. The kinds of movies that used to appeal to me don't necessarily appeal to me anymore."
Nothing caught his attention until 2009 when the novel Prince of Thieves was adapted into The Town. It was immediately anticipated by critics; not only was Affleck set to direct and co-write (again with Aaron Stockard), he would also star in the story set in Boston, marking the third film of his career featuring his hometown. This film featured leaner scenes and slicker dialogue, benefitting overall from Affleck's solidifying directorial voice. It stumbled narratively as a result of some bigger risks taken, but not to the extent that the story became unbelievable; ultimately, it was the characters that kept its forward momentum. Jeremy Renner was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role.
Amidst the work itself, Affleck has pushed himself to keep learning. "I felt like the more educated actor is a better actor, the more educated actor is a better director, and so on." He has immersed himself in film history, working his way through 1000 Films to See Before You Die and pulling inspiration from seventies films ("My favorite era in American filmmaking. To me, those were the great years") than any other period. The Town drew many comparisons to The Friends of Eddie Coyle (which he would take as a complement) ; "The Verdict was the poster I had on the wall during Gone, Baby, Gone."
Affleck's background with Middle Eastern history paid off when he began to approach the storytelling process for Argo (the opening narrative scene of which was not in the original script and was written by Affleck himself). Argo succeeds in its ability to sympathize with Iranians as well as Americans and Canadians during the hostage crisis, being very sure to depict only extremists as villains, not ordinary Iranian citizens; subsequently, the film has a specific political message that is almost an afterthought, yet powerful enough to drive the point home. It is here that Affleck shows his comfort on set behind a camera -- driving the narrative, setting the tone -- where he has truly grown into a self-possessed director.
With his next couple of projects lined up (including a rejoinder with lifelong pal Matt Damon and an adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand), we'll be seeing plenty more of Affleck's directorial efforts; and keep an eye out for Argo at awards ceremonies this winter. Argo is still in theaters nationwide.