Ben Affleck goes behind the camera -- The actor makes his directorial debut with ''Gone, Baby, Gone''

By Hannah Tucker
Updated June 23, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Not that long ago, before b.o. stinkers like Gigli or Jersey Girl or Surviving Christmas, Ben Affleck was the best bang for a producer’s buck. He effortlessly won over the indie set (Chasing Amy) and action fans (Armageddon) alike — and, in between, snapped up an Oscar for co-writing 1997’s Good Will Hunting with his original better half, Matt Damon.

Now, at age 33, Affleck — uncharacteristically quiet since 2003’s Bennifer I fallout — is attempting to nudge his career forward by returning to the DIY ethic that put him on the map. He’s scripted and is making his directorial debut with an adaptation of author Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone, a crime drama about two private investigators searching for a missing 4-year-old girl.

The gritty thriller, now shooting, is a pointed departure for Affleck, who has languished in a purgatory of romances and comedies. This project demands virtues that have eluded Affleck’s résumé for years: dramatic weight and complexity. And he’s off to a good start. Acting vets Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman (who’ll play cops) have been cast alongside younger talents like brother Casey Affleck and M:I-3‘s Michelle Monaghan (the PIs). It also can’t hurt that the last Lehane book to hit the screen was the critically lauded Mystic River. That Oscar-grabbing film was helmed by another actor who weathered his own dark period, then reinvented himself as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with: Clint Eastwood. And he once worked with a chimp.


CAREER 411: BEN THERE, DONE THAT

A quick refresher course on significant moments in Affleck history

MARCH 1998 WINS OSCAR
Co-writes Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon. Gets catapulted to the A list.

JULY 1998 STARS IN ARMAGEDDON
Is officially a leading man. Survives corny animal-cracker scene.

AUG. 2003 GIGLI FLOPS
Performance becomes punchline to jokes about Bennifer I’s overexposure.

DEC. 2005 BENNIFER II HAVE BABY
Settles down with Daredevil costar Jennifer Garner. Keeps low profile.

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