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Ben Affleck Has Options: 5 Of His In-Development Projects That He Could Do Next (Sorry, ‘Justice League’)

Ben Affleck Has Options: 5 Of His In-Development Projects That He Could Do Next (Sorry, 'Justice League')

This time a decade ago, Ben Affleck was approaching the nadir of his career. 2002 might have seen him star in two well-regarded hits, “The Sum of All Fears” and “Changing Lanes,” but the following year saw him headline three disappointments, “Daredevil,” “Gigli” and “Paycheck,” followed up the next year by the equally dreadful “Jersey Girl” and “Surviving Christmas.”

But within a few years, Affleck had managed to turn things around by taking control of his own destiny: after a well-received supporting turn in “Hollywoodland” in 2006, Affleck made his directorial debut in 2007 with the Dennis Lehane adaptation, “Gone Baby Gone,” a showcase for his brother Casey, which picked up excellent reviews. Three years later, he was back behind the camera again with another Boston-set crime thriller, “The Town,” in which he also gives one of his best performances. And when that film became a sleeper hit, Affleck was suddenly in demand as a filmmaker as much as he’d ever been as an actor.

Any question as to Affleck’s longevity as a director has been answered this year with “Argo” — a political thriller by way of Hollywood satire that’s become one of the best-reviewed films of the year. With the film heading into awards season as a serious front-runner, its director is cemented as an A-list filmmaker, and yesterday, he signed on for another Lehane adaptation, “Live By Night,” which the trades have suggested would be his next project. But with no script ready yet, could one of his many other projects slip in? And even if “Live By Night” comes next, what else is on Affleck’s dance card? We’ve delved into Affleck’s slate to investigate which of his directorial projects we might see in the next few years, and which might never happen at all. Read on for more. 

Argo” might mark new territory for Affleck, seeing him step away from his hometown of Boston, the setting of “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone” and his Oscar-winning screenwriting debut “Good Will Hunting.” But Affleck isn’t planning on leaving Beantown crime pictures forever, and one of the projects on his slate could be the Boston crime drama, as he’s been attached to a biopic of the city’s legendary crime overlord Whitey Bulger for a year or so at this point.

Bulger (who’s previously served as inspiration for Jack Nicholson‘s character in “The Departed” and for TV series “Brotherhood” — as in the latter, his brother was a Massachusetts state senator) rose to power in the 1980s, in part because he was serving as an FBI informant. But soon his power became too much for the authorities to ignore, and he went on the run in 1994 after a crackdown of his gambling operations, eventually being captured in Santa Monica last year and indicted on 19 counts of murder.

The film, set up at Warner Bros., is written byBoardwalk Empire” showrunner Terence Winter, and would star Damon as Bulger, with Affleck directing and possibly playing Bulger’s FBI liaison John Connolly, and Casey Affleck as Whitey’s politician brother Billy.  And the first non Kevin Smith-related reunion of Damon and Affleck since “Good Will Hunting” seems to be a real passion project, with Affleck saying recently “If there was a movie that me and Matt were meant to do together, this has gotta be the one.”

That said, it looks very unlikely to be the director’s next film. When we spoke to Affleck at the NYC premiere of “Argo” the other night, he told us of the Bulger project “My guess is honestly, [it’ll be] the movie after next. I’ll probably find something that’s in better shape to do next until we got that one ready, and then we’ll go ahead and fire that one up,” adding that the script “needs a lot more work.” Affleck seems committed to the film, but it sounds like he may take something else on first. Whether it’s “Live By Night,” which doesn’t yet seem to have a script, remains to be seen.

Tell No One
One good contender for that slot is “Tell No One,” an adaptation of Harlan Coben‘s best-selling thriller about a doctor, still grieving from the murder of his wife, who discovers evidence that she might still be alive. The source material was previously adapted by actor/director Guillaume Canet for an all-star French-language version that proved an international hit back in 2006, and a U.S. version has been in the works for a while (“Star Trek” writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci wrote a script a few years back), but Affleck gave the project a new lease of life when he became attached last summer.

He brought along his “Argo” writer Chris Terrio to pen the new adaptation, and producer Kathleen Kennedy told us last year that there’s no fear of another version so soon, saying “I don’t do usually do remakes, but this was also a movie that wasn’t seen by a lot of people in the U.S. It’s an absolutely fantastic movie, but at the same time, there was a bit of a flaw in the third act in terms of how everything wrapped up, so it just felt like perfect remake material.”

At the time, Kennedy suggested that it could be the director’s next film, saying that after “Argo,” “he’ll segue onto this, and we’ll talk more about it.” But a pulpier thriller like this isn’t necessarily the natural successor to an acclaimed, awards-touting film like “Argo,” and Affleck suggested it wasn’t that high on his priority list, saying this week that it was “secondary stuff” and that “I’m not sure when it’ll actually happen.” Unless it comes together faster than the Lehane adaptation, it sounds like this may not happen any time soon — and given the increasing scope of Affleck’s projects, we can see him falling off the film altogether.The Stand
Warner Bros. (who, with GK Films, backed both “The Town” and “Argo“) now seem to consider Affleck something of a favorite son, and have offered him most of their big-ticket projects in the last couple of years, includingGangster Squad,” “Man of Steel” and “Justice League.” Affleck turned them all down, but finally bit when “Harry Potter” helmer David Yates stepped out of a brewing multi-part adaptation of Stephen King‘s classic apocalyptic novel “The Stand.”

Previously adapted into a 1994 TV miniseries and, more recently, a Marvel comic book, Affleck and Warners hired Dave Kajganich (“The Invasion“), who’s made something of a name for himself of late with King adaptations, penning new scripts for “Pet Sematary” and “It.” It’s a high-priority project at Warners, and Affleck said this week that it’s one of only two projects (along with “Whitey“) that he’s actively developing.

But he also said the process is “very tough; it’s just a massive thing. So we are trying to figure out if it’s two movies or three movies. And there has to be a whole first movie, you can’t just say ’To be continued,’ because the whole arc of the book is a huge story but it is still a beginning, middle, and end. So we are trying to pull apart the movie and figure out how to make it.” It sounds like it’s still at the earliest stages, we can’t see Affleck making this immediately. But then again, with acting projects keeping him busy in the early part of 2013, maybe a script could be ready to shoot by the end of next year? Even so, we’re still doubtful that Affleck would commit multiple years of his life to two or three movies of the project, (or indeed, that Warners would greenlight a mega-budget movie that’s sure to carry an R-rating, even with Affleck at the helm). It’s possible it could be next, but the smart money is that it never happens at all.

“Nathan Decker”/”Race to the South Pole”
Affleck hasn’t abandoned acting for directing altogether: he wrapped recently on online gambling thriller “Runner Runner” with Justin Timberlake, starred in Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” and recently stepped in for Ryan Gosling on con-man romance “Focus,” from “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” helmers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. But could some of the projects he’s involved with in other roles end up providing his next directorial effort?

One announced only in the last few weeks is “Race to the South Pole,” an Antarctic drama set up at Warners through Affleck and Matt Damon‘s Pearl Street company. Based on a pitch by Peter Glanz (the upcoming ‘The Longest Week“), it involves the rivalry between Robert Falcon Scott (to be played by Casey Affleck) and Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, as they battled to become the first to reach the South Pole. Glanz is directing “The Longest Week,” but there’s no indicator that he’s attached to helm this too, and Affleck might well be mulling up the director’s chair himself. That said, there doesn’t seem to be a script for the film yet (it was described as a ‘pitch’ by the trades), and Affleck is meant to be only considering directorial efforts he can also act in, so maybe it is just a case of him serving as a producer.

Perhaps more likely is “Nathan Decker,” a script by hot scribe Dan Fogelman (“Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” “The Guilt Trip“). Warners (yep, them again) picked up the film in 2011 with the intention of Tom Cruise starring, but Affleck became attached back in March to play the title role of a politician caught having an affair who returns to his hometown. With “Argo” showing a lighter side to Affleck’s directorial talents, a more comedically leaning film might be the natural next step, particularly as it retains more serious political overtones too. And no director is attached to the project, so assuming a script’s ready to go, Affleck could jump right on. That said, Affleck’s following a similar pattern to George Clooney in terms of switching to directing, and Clooney’s delve into lighter fare with “Leatherheads” didn’t turn out too well for anyone… Still, it could be a real possibility if he wants to get back behind the camera sooner rather than later.

“The Trade”
There’s a few projects that Affleck’s been involved with over time that he’s since dropped out of: POV-actioner “Line of Sight” was one possibility, but he was recently replaced with “Act of Valor” director Mike McCoy on the film, while he was in discussions to direct the pilot for “Homeland” at one stage. But one that’s been in the works since before “The Town” could yet resurface: baseball drama “The Trade.”

The film, about New York Yankees players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, who in 1973 revealed that they’d been indulging in wife-swapping and had fallen for each other’s spouses, first surfaced as a possible reunion for Affleck and Matt Damon in the spring of 2010, and the former signed on to rewrite the script with brother Casey, soon after the release of “The Town.”

Things started to gear up early in 2011, with Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz and Rebecca Hall mentioned as potential female leads, but around the same time, it emerged that Kekich and other former Yankees were being uncooperative, which risked shutting down movement on the project altogether.

There’s been little word on the film since, and Affleck hasn’t mentioned it on the “Argo” press tour, but it could serve as a handy warm up to “Whitey” if it’s ready to go and if the possibly legal obstacles have been cleared up.

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