I’ve been holding fast since the mid-2000s — Ben Affleck is the most underrated, most-often maligned male actor of my time.
With the nearly career-ending days of Gigli, Paycheck and Surviving Christmas almost two decades behind us, critics and audiences alike still can’t seem to get around the fact Affleck is, in fact, one hell of an actor, and an even better director.
Since the resurrection of his career playing Superman television star George Reeves in 2006’s Hollywoodland, Affleck has consistently turned in revelatory, nuanced work.
With Amazon Prime Video’s offering The Tender Bar, Affleck gives his best performance since 2014’s biting Gone Girl. As a wise, shit-shooting, doting uncle, he hits all the right notes.
His Uncle Charlie guides young JR as the young man tries to upend his circumstances and make something of himself. Rattling off bravado wisdom as the barback of a local watering hole, Affleck is easily the most appealing, interesting character in director George Clooney’s effort.
Tye Sheridan stars as JR, a young man with a deadbeat father whose uncle takes him under his wing. With a mother (the fantastic Lily Rabe) struggling to make ends meet and a cranky, lazy grandfather (the incomparable Christopher Lloyd), JR looks up to his fast-talking uncle for advice on how to become a man.
Whether he’s in indie territory with The Company Men or To The Wonder, directing Gone, Baby Gone or The Town, channeling his own alcoholism issues for last year’s underseen The Way Back or providing a take on Batman for a new era, Affleck is nothing if not entirely charismatic.
The Tender Bar is no different. The man owns the screen, and his presence is magnetic for the viewer. While I’d contend the movie around him is as sappy as a Lifetime movie with better acting, Affleck manages to shine brightly enough to merit some serious recognition. And still, the actor is regularly mocked, despite his obvious, breezy talent.
He’s had his triumphs and his lows – his Bruce Wayne was the best part of the overall critical failure DC film world and his last directorial effort Live By Night was a disappointment – but one fact remains: Affleck has had a career resurgence unlike anything we’ve seen in the last 20 years, save for Matthew McConaughey’s rise.
The former Armageddon star and Kevin Smith mainstay won an Oscar for producing Best Picture winner Argo, a film he also directed and starred in, and he even won that year’s Golden Globe for his effort behind the camera. Most recently, he’s gained acclaim this year for director Ridley Scott’s swords-and-sandals meditation on toxic masculinity The Last Duel.
His smarmy, go-for-broke role as Pierre d’Alencon in the film is easily the most entertaining turn, and he reunites with best friend Matt Damon, with whom he won a screenplay Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting. The two create a forceful script with Nicole Holofcener, and one that helped land the movie as one of the Top 10 selections of the year by the National Board Of Review.
And now, Affleck has received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Tender Bar, which elicited surprise from the media and critics alike. However, I’d argue Affleck’s nomination is more than deserved – it could be an important precursor on the way to an Oscar nomination in the same category.
The Tender Bar is a well-acted, nostalgic but mostly superfluous affair based on a wonderful memoir you’re likely to enjoy on a snowy Sunday. It’s relatively light, cheery, and you can depend on this thespians as always.
But based on the way Affleck has often been underestimated, what you might not expect is this: Affleck currently sits on many pundit lists like this one as a dark horse contender for the Oscars, and if I had a vote, this would be the moment he gets his due.
The Tender Bar sometimes threatens to slide off its stool while telling the same old story, but Affleck not once falters under the weight of Clooney’s sleepy, carefree picture. If anything, he elevates it to a level that needs to be seen to be believed.