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Thomas Wictor


Aug 25, 2013

I haven't seen any of the Batman movies, except for the one with Michael Keaton in the lead role and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The only reason I saw it was because of Keaton—one of my favorite actors—and Prince's song "Electric Chair." I didn't like the movie. Jack Nicholson rubs me the wrong way. Not his fault; he's just playing to an audience that doesn't include me.

Though I really love The Witches of Eastwick, the main reason is the stunning performance of the always-brilliant Richard Jenkins, one of the greatest actors of all time. His forte is giggling in panic as everything around him falls apart, the state of my life for decades. He's the only actor in the world I'd love to take to lunch. I'm betting we'd have a lot to talk about.

All of this is to say that I don't care that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman. I won't see the movie because I'm not into superheroes or CGI blockbusters. I never saw Avatar. The trailers alone were agony. I watched a documentary on how they made it, and that was all I could stomach. The performances left me cold. It was nothing but shouting, clenched teeth, furrowed brows, and other histrionics. I like movies about people.

Which brings me to Ben Affleck.

He starred in the terrific film Going All the Way. What makes the movie so mesmerizing is Affleck's ambiguity and the tension it produces. He's shockingly handsome, athletic, popular, and normal, a soldier coming home from the Korean War. On the train back to Indiana, he meets fellow veteran Sonny Burns, played by the incredible Jeremy Davies. If you know Davies, you're aware that he specializes in depicting strange, damaged, vulnerable men who can barely speak above a whisper. They stutter and avoid eye contact. Davies's characters are the sort of people who in real life get beaten up, humiliated, made fun of, and assaulted on a regular basis.

Affleck's Gunner Casselman and Davies's Sonny Burns attended the same high school, but since Casselman was a Big Man on Campus, he had no idea that Burns existed. Sonny is still shy and awkward, so when Casselman befriends him on the train, we don't know if he's sincere or not. Due to the enigmatic persona that Casselman has adopted for reasons explained later, it's simply not possible to tell if he's setting up this juiciest of lambs for eventual slaughter. Sonny has his suspicions.

And therein lies the sheer artistry of Affleck's characterization. We're not sure if Casselman really likes the neurotic, troubled Sonny Burns or is keeping him around only for laughs. Even worse, maybe Casselman is going to betray Sonny in some horrible, public way. We're on the edge of our seats, waiting for the guillotine blade to drop and Affleck to do this.

Since I identify with Sonny Burns, I found Going All the Way a very emotional experience. And because of his stellar acting job in the film, Ben Affleck will always have a special place in my pantheon of entertainers. Even if he never did anything else, this one role would be enough for me. I find ambiguity the most attractive of traits in an actor. That's what made Robert Redford such a genius in his earlier work. You could never quite tell what he was thinking or what his motivations were.

And Affleck reminds me of my late pal Steiv Dixon, an extremely enigmatic man who befriended me in Tokyo for no reason that I could discern. He was as handsome as the young Gary Cooper, intelligent, riotously funny, and someone who could talk about any subject, no matter how absurd, obscure, or esoteric. It took me a long, long time to trust him. I just couldn't believe that he wanted to be my friend when he could've had anyone.

All my favorite artists—in all media—have the ambiguity that Affleck nails in Going All the Way.

Francis Bacon.

Stephen Jay.

Tim O'Brien.

Theo Jansen.

Cindy Sherman.

So I say good for you in landing Batman, Ben. I hope the movie is a smash hit and you make eight or nine dumptrucks full of money. More importantly, I hope you're happy with the film. Your performance in Going All the Way deserves a lifetime of rewards because it puts you up there with the best of them. Orsen Welles in his prime couldn't have done better in that film.