It’s not that Affleck isn’t recognizable anymore. In person he looks exactly like the furrow-browed asteroid-wrangler/fighter pilot/superhero of the multiplex that’s been paying his bills for the last few years. Not shorter. Not balder. Not surgically God-proofed. Just . . . well . . . it looks like he was pressed and sprung from some Ben Affleck factory. Right down to the green T-shirt printed with the word shamrocks and the white tennis shoes with the Boston Red Sox logo sewn into the sides. Recognizability isn’t Affleck’s problem. Credibility is Affleck’s problem. And with the Oscar buzz about his performance as fifties television actor George Reeves in 2006’s Hollywoodland having failed to deliver a Ben Affleck renaissance—plus a wife and kid to feed—it’s time to reevaluate his future. No blinking.

To his credit, Affleck wasn’t fucking around when he clambered into the director’s chair. He even dog-and-pony-showed Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris into working for him.

“I got a really nice e-mail from him saying how much he wanted me to do it,” says Harris, who plays a cop with dirt on his badge. “You could tell immediately how important the film was to him. Not just personally, but careerwise. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to it. I like people who have something at stake when they work.”

As for casting his brother, Casey, Affleck refuses to even acknowledge the nepotism factor: “He was the obvious choice by far. I think he’s a really good actor, but he also had the benefit of people not being as aware of him. Other actors, you have this expectation of what they’ll do. But Casey? He could surprise you.”

It also helped that Ben could actually “direct” his little brother—more so than he could have any of his peers. And it’s always nice to have a blood-related whipping boy during migraine-spawning, pressure-jacked situations . . . like directing your first movie.

“We talked about many, many things,” says Casey, whose laissez-faire body of work has largely consisted of sporadic indie fare and a few one-liners in the Ocean’s franchise. “And we disagreed about most. In the end, I just said ‘Yes.’”

For such a devoted and, apparently, fiendishly talented poker player—he once won $356,400 at the California State Poker Championship—Affleck has a surprisingly obvious tell. When self-reflection gets uncomfortable, he unbuckles his chunky silver watch, slides it from his wrist, and begins to fiddle with the clasp. The clicking sound makes awkward silences more awkward.

“It was probably bad for my career,” he says, unlatching the timepiece, pulling it over his hand, and gripping it between his fingers. He’s talking about the Bennifer years (2002–2004).

Click.

“What happens is this sort of bleed-over from the tabloids across your movie work. You go to a movie, you only go once. But the tabloids and Internet are everywhere. You can really subsume the public image of somebody. I ended up in an unfortunate crosshair position where I was in a relationship and [the media] mostly lied and inflated a bunch of salacious stuff for the sake of selling magazines. And I paid a certain price for that. Then, in concert with some movies that didn’t work . . .”