He lay low for a few years, even as his status as a national joke sputtered on. (From a 2005 Newsweek humor column: “North Korea sent shockwaves through the international community today by announcing that it possesses an unreleased Ben Affleck film which it will open wide if the United States does not agree to bilateral talks.”) He got married to actress Jennifer Garner and started a family, avoiding the cameras as best as a tabloid staple can.
In 2006, Affleck played 1950s TV actor George Reeves (“Superman”) in a twisty period drama called “Hollywoodland” and, to the shock of many, got great reviews. The next year, he did something more startling: He directed a movie and didn’t appear in it. “Gone Baby Gone” marked a return to Affleck’s roots both in its Boston settings and in the seriousness with which he approached the drama onscreen and the craft behind it.
It was almost as if he were asking the hometown that had disowned him to take him back. Crucially, Affleck’s choosing not to star in the film took his persona out of the game. It looked like an act of humility, and that was something new in the aggregation of public signage we call Ben Affleck.
With “The Town” (2010), he stepped gingerly back in front of his own cameras while staying within the comfort zone of familiar locations. The strut was gone, and a becoming new wariness informed the playing.
And with “Argo,” his third feature film as a director, Affleck bet the farm: an ambitious period epic that embraces revolutionary Iran and 1970s Hollywood, that nimbly combines comedy and classic movie suspense — and that he anchors onscreen not as a swaggering lone-wolf hero but as the leader of a team.
The performance was fine, but it was the directing that sealed the deal. This awards season has been, at long last, Affleck’s moment, and he has accepted it with the sincere and grateful humility of a man who once was toast and who surely recognizes by now the absurd fickleness of fame.
But what makes it all the more satisfying — doubtless for him as well as for us — is that this is much more than an actor’s comeback. It’s a filmmaker’s arrival.