Different Game

Ben Affleck’s career may be on the ropes, but at least he seems to get that…and is doing something about it. Like being adaptable enough to take only $500,000 upfront for playing George Reeves, the amiable TV actor who shot himself over career problems in 1959, in Focus Features’ Truth, Justice and the American Way.
This may sound like a bit of a comedown for a guy who used to pocket $12 million or so per film, and who earned a lot more, reportedly, from a back-end revenue deal his agent cut over Pearl Harbor. But not when you take the long view.

Truth — the story of the 1959 death of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on TV in the 1950s — is a modestly proportioned, character- driven period film that has a budget of $20 million (or just under), so everyone — including costars Adrien Brody and Diane Lane — is working for less. Allen Coulter, the highly respected Sopranos director, will begin shooting in the summer.
Besides, taking the Reeves role (which is kind of a co-lead — Truth is also about Brody’s character, a shamus, looking into Reeves’ suicide) is apparently part of a new Affleck career strategy of taking less money (which may not be a choice at this stage) and going for sturdier roles.
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Going for roles, in other words, that echo or emulate the most respected, best-reviewed performance of his career — that of the affable smoothie lawyer suffering a spiritual meltdown in Changing Lanes.
That performance worked in part because it seemed to reflect on some level who Affleck really was: a smart, well-connected, good-looking guy cruising through life, but starting to inwardly choke over his own bullshit.
Affleck may be one of the healthiest, least screwed-up guys around in actuality, but the image of the fucked-up, soul-sick yuppie feels right on the screen.

It was also ahead of its time in a sense, as Affleck’s box-office losing streak (Gigli, Jersey Girl, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas) and all the Bennifer tabloid crap…gambling-at-the-Hard-Rock, addictions to this and that, a stumbling-around, banging-into-furniture quality to his public outings…didn’t manifest big-time until Changing Lanes went to video.
Fairly or not, people accepted the idea of a spiritually afflicted Affleck like they bought Jimmy Cagney playing gangsters and Pat O’Brien playing priests.
That’s why, I’m guessing, his forthcoming performance in Mike Binder’s Man About Town will probably work. It’s not an overly dark piece, but it’s not what you’d call “light” either. Affleck will play a Hollywood talent agent whose world starts to fall apart when he learns that his wife Nina (Rebecca Romijn) is fooling around on the side, and that a fang-toothed journalist Barbi Ling (Ling) is out to waste him with a profile piece based on his diary.
Written and directed by Binder (whose previous film, The Upside of Anger, is opening on March 11), Man About Town will probably open next fall.
And that’s why playing Reeves is a good fit. An amiable, modestly talented actor with a winning smile whose Superman success typecast him and ruined any chance of playing roles in feature films….a guy who was going downhill and knew it, and also had a bit of a drinking problem, and was carrying on some kind of affair with the wife of major studio executive at the time…another smoothie in crisis.
All Affleck has to do is gray his hair up and put on some weight (Reeves was a little beefy looking toward the end) and it’ll be like Frank Sinatra playing Pvt. Maggio in From Here to Eternity …a mouthy little guinea playing a mouthy little guinea.

Before starting on Man About Town last fall, Affleck’s last gig was starring in Paycheck, a 2003 John Woo actioner that wound up taking in less in U.S. theatres than its reported $60 million negative cost.
New York Post entertainment writer Lou Lumenick wrote in a story out today (2.23) that Affleck subsequently “dropped out” of two big-budget films at Disney, the sports drama Glory Road, in which he was replaced by Josh Lucas, and the romantic comedy The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past which is being recast.
The reason he didn’t do Glory Road, I’ve been told, is that Disney wouldn’t pay him the $4 million fee his agent wanted.
Affleck was actually mulling over the George Reeves role about two years ago. The film’s original co-director Mark Polish (who left the project with his brother Michael when Miramax balked at casting Kyle MacLachlan as Reeves) told me yesterday he’d met with Matt Damon in late `02 about playing the private detective role, and while he never spoke to Affleck about the Reeves role, Damon may have tipped him about it.
Affleck is “damaged goods, there’s no question about it,” a veteran agent said yesterday. “I don’t know what he did, exactly, to earn this [reputation]. Is he that bad an actor? No. He was good in Changing Lanes, he was good in Shakespeare in Love, he was good in Boiler Room.”
And yet, he added, “I would say he’s lucky to be getting offered [the Reeves] role.”

“He’s not getting top dollar any more, he doesn’t mean anything, and the career he had of bringing people into the theatres is over,” a marketing veteran said, speaking of Affleck. “And he wants a semblance of a career, and his agent is saying to him, you’ve got to do something to revive it.
“I don’t know what his overhead is, but the checks aren’t coming in. The big checks are gone, and no one is going to pay him the big checks. But he’s young enough to reverse himself, like Travolta did.”
Binder said during a q & a session at my UCLA Sneak Preview series a couple of weeks ago (following a showing of The Upside of Anger) that Affleck has “taken the last two years and moved on and is smart and talented enough to come at things in a whole new way.”
“This guy won an Oscar at 24 — he’s 32 now,” Binder has been quoted as saying. “He needed to stumble. He’s learned a lot from the last two years, trust me.”

Blood and Sand

It seems likely that 24 year-old Jake Gyllenhaal, who started out playing twitchy-sensitive weirdos in Donnie Darko and The Good Girl, will have a better-than-decent shot at a Best Actor trophy next year with his portrayal of Anthony Swofford (i.e., “Swoff”) in Sam Mendes’ Jarhead.
Especially since Gyllenhaal is also likely to punch through on some level with his performance as a gay-leaning cowboy in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, which Focus features is opening on 10.7.05…only five weeks before Jarhead.
Swofford was a real-life U.S. Marine who wrote the book that the film is based upon. In the script, “Swoff” becomes a sniper under the command of Jamie Foxx’s Sergeant Siek, and ends up fighting in the ’91 Gulf War.

I’m basing this on having read William Broyles’ script of Jarhead. The Universal release will probably emerge as an Oscar Awards contender in several categories after it opens on 11.11.05.
And while I’m at it: Peter Sarsgaard, whose portrayal of New Republic editor Chuck Lane in Shattered Glass broke him out of the pack, has the most hard-core and most commanding presence in Jarhead. (Gyllenhaal’s Swofford comes off as more emotionally susceptible, and even a bit unhinged.)
Knowing Sarsgaard’s capacity for intensity and staring people down and all, I feel fairly safe in saying that his performance as Troy, a sniper who has his gear wired tight at every turn of the road, is going to have an impact.
Especially, I’m thinking, with the consensus that Sarsgaard was under-recognized for his Glass performance, and everyone having admired his work in Kinsey and, more recently, his performance as a gay screenwriter in Craig Lucas’s The Dying Gaul.
Jarhead will probably resonate as a realistic portrait of the loneliness, combat craziness and other wack factors affecting the lives of American soldiers in Iraq…even though it’s centered around the ’91 Gulf War.
It doesn’t have the conflict-between-father-figures element that fortified Oliver Stone’s Platoon (it’s basically an immersion in the unsettled emotions of a combat soldier — before, during and after battle) but then every new film is a reinvention.


If there was a last-minute Oscar rumble last week, it was over an assumption in some quarters that Cate Blanchett was a slam-dunk to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for delivering what could graciously be called a decent impersonation of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.
Add Jamie Foxx’s almost-certain win for Best Actor for “doing” Ray Charles in Ray , and that would be two Oscars for performances that are as much about sustained mimicry as anything else.

“It’s just a way for voters to make an easy call,” Oscar pulsetaker Pete Hammond said last week about the Blanchett vote. “She doesn’t have much [of a role], but she got Hepburn pretty well and it’s easy to see that and say, `Yeah, give her the award.”
I’ve said this too many times, but withholding the Oscar from the actress who really deserves it — Sideways‘ Virginia Madsen — seems close to appalling.
Especially when you consider what Blanchett reportedly said when she accepted a similar acting honor from the BAFTA Awards a little while back. She looked up from the podium, smiled and said to Hepburn’s ghost, “I’m sure you’re pleased you weren’t allowed to see this.”

Last week the word started getting around that the leading contender for next year’s Mimicry Oscar will be Joaquin Phoenix, for an allegedly dead-on portrayal of country singer Johnny Cash in James Mangold’s Walk The Line.
20th Century Fox’s decision to release this biopic on 11.18.05 is an obvious Oscar positioning move, and it won’t hurt that Cash’s legend has been on the ascent since his death in September ’03. A similar synergy helped Taylor Hackford’s Ray when it opened four and a half months after Charles’ death in June ’04….as cynical as that sounds.

Missing It

“I’m 15, and I saw Sideways before it opened and loved it every bit as much as you did. But I only have two friends who are around my age who liked it as much as I.
“Everyone else I’ve talked to has not had a positive reaction to the movie. ‘I didn’t understand why they were friends,’ one said. I told another to watch it again in a few years and he said, ‘If I don’t like it now why would I ever like it?’ Even
some adults, like my substitute teacher in English, thought that it was so unlikable and couldn’t muster up any sympathy towards the Paul Giamatti character.
I figured you’d be the best guy to ask why don’t more people of my age understand Sideways?” — Jeremy Fassler.
Wells to Fassler: I haven’t a clue as to why your English teacher found it unlikable, but he probably needs to get out more. That or Giamatti’s character reminded him of something in himself on some level, and he didn’t like thinking about that. Your friends not liking it is probably about life-experience issues. My 16 year-old son Jett says “several” of his friends liked it fine.


“Like you, I was pleased to see The Laughing Policeman released on DVD. It marked the middle of three solid performance by Walter Matthau during the early 1970’s in hard-boiled crime dramas, coming between Charley Varrick (which I am boycotting on DVD until it is released in matted 1.85) and The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three (which has been available for quite some time on a budget- priced DVD).
“Many serious actors would love to have three consecutive films like this on their resume, let alone a comic like Matthau. He acquitted himself well in all three, especially in Varrick, which called for a more well-rounded character.

“Sadly, none of the films performed particularly well at the box office and they are all pretty well forgotten today save for buffs like ourselves.
“The DVD releases of Varrick and Policeman are about as bare-bones as it gets. For whatever reason, Matthau returned to doing what eventually became his Grumpy Old Man shtick after Pelham and never really returned to serious drama the rest of his life.
“While I am still upset at the shabby treatment given Charley Varrick on DVD, it is good to see these movies get some belated recognition.
“Another movie of this era which is long overdue for a DVD is Arthur Penn’s Night Moves with Gene Hackman — a film that qualifies for your list of genuinely depressing films.” — Steven R. Silver

Folks Night

A moment with Paul Reiser, writer-producer and co-star of The Thing About My Folks, at UCLA Wadsworth Theatre during discussion following screening — Monday, 2.21.05, 9:25 pm. Thanks to Reiser, producer reps Jeff Dowd and David Garber, and publicist Mickey Cottrell for helping to arrange the screening.