Ben Affleck is really talented. No, really.
Ben Affleck has acted in some truly horrible movies. After citing the Oscar he won with his best friend, Affleck's resume reads like a list of the worst movies from the late '90s that we all thought were sorta okay at the time (just like Sugar Ray). In 2003, he killed his career as a leading man with the three-punch combo of Daredevil, Gigli and Jersey Girl. But those critical and box-office failures led to Affleck's re-flexing his freakishly tall writing-and-directing muscles, and a newly ripped (with talent) Ben delivered Gone Baby Gone and The Town, two amazing additions to the pantheon of kickass Boston crime movies (playing tonight as a double feature at the Denver FilmCenter as the finale of their Beantown noir series). If only he had directed himself in his worst failures, maybe they'd be pretty good movies. Here's how they'd be different.
Hey, nits, I already said I was sorry about those crappy movies, all right?
Originally written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson
In a lot of ways, Daredevil has a lot going for it -- especially the director's cut, which is like an entirely different movie (the plot makes a lot more sense and you can see the action). It could even be argued that the cheesiness of it is actually the purest possible cinematic interpretation of Frank Miller's writing, which can come off great in panels while making you slightly vomit in your mouth when real, live-action people are saying and doing Millerish things on screen.
It takes a somewhat visionary director to pull that style off, as it either has to be filtered into something operatic, gritty and timeless (like DePalma's Scarface), or heavily stylized. (See the difference between 300 and Sin City: One is a stylized Miller adaptation by a director with an incredible eye, and one is a wonderfully cast motion-comic with no weight or anything resembling the art of cinema beyond the modernity that comes with making everything into a cheap computer graphic.) The thing you especially don't do is attempt to direct the movie the way you think Miller would. (Have you seen The Spirit? It's okay -- we've tried to forget too.)
Mark Steven Johnson is not a visionary director. He's a comic-book movie workhorse who manages to attach himself to mid-budget projects and attempts to quiet fan grumblings by throwing around "respect to the original material" in pre-production interviews. After this he went on to direct Ghost Rider and then somehow finangled his way into an HBO adaptation of Preacher, which, thank Jesse Custer, fell through. His most recent movie was the mediocre rom-com (really, aren't most of them mediocre anymore? What happened to Nora Ephron?) When in Rome, which is mostly famous among people I know for using a song produced by some local boys that made good in its promotional material.
Ben Affleck, however, was a great choice for Daredevil. He's a massive, brooding Irish dude with the ability to switch back and forth between absolute loneliness and sadness and extreme anger. Affleck may be good-looking, but the dude can be scary, especially all dressed up in a red padded leather jumpsuit, flying through the air, about to knock you senseless with a billy club. Despite being attractive, he ain't pretty; it's entirely possible to believe this kid grew up on the streets. Affleck would make a terrible Batman -- the baggage he'd bring to the role would be a nice addition of recklessness, Catholic guilt/hypocrisy and an inner core that seems like he'd be more comfortable breaking thumbs as a loan shark enforcer. Luckily, Daredevil is Batman + Catholicism, thuggery and recklessness (how do you think he got his name? Dude just jumps off buildings hoping there's something to grab onto on the way down). Oh, yeah -- he's blind, too.
What Affleck would do: Affleck gets Daredevil. One of his best friends wrote a seminal run on the book (Affleck wrote the forward for the TPB), and he supposedly took the part when he realized the other actors being courted had never read the comic. He thought he had an innate understanding after his years of fannery (that is SO a word).
Gone Baby Gone and The Town are the things you get when you Google "gritty + operatic" and hit "I'm Feeling Lucky." They're movies about flawed, violent, street-level heroes who would be awful people if only they didn't have that pesky inner moral code -- it's certainly easier for them. They have to fight their very nature as often as they fight their literal villains.
Hell's Kitchen is as much as part of Daredevil as the red jumpsuit. As cliche a trope of criticism it is to say it, the city has to be another character in the film. Affleck would understand this the way he understands all the facets of Daredevil. Like The Town, Daredevil would deconstruct the city, exploring the environment that creates criminals and sociopaths (Daredevil is, in many ways, both).
At its heart, The Town is pulp. It's like a well-made B-noir from the early days of classical Hollywood, complete with a melodramatic romance mostly separate from sex; action sequences where the hero manages to evade the police without hurting them seriously; and hoods that range from Bogart-style to Cagney at his craziest (the worst get punished, the ones with a code are martyred heroes).
That's really all Daredevil has to be.
And if you watch those flicks, you won't hear a single nu-metal song, and they sure as hell didn't launch the career of anything remotely like Evanescence. (Did you know Daredevil launched the career of Evanescence? My Immortal is actually part of the score. Seriously, Amy Lee is in the booth singing with the orchestra during the recording of the Daredevil score. She has on very pale makeup.) That fact alone would make Affleck's Daredevil worth it.