Ben Affleck has played nice, charming guys and he has played scoundrels, but in Don Roos's Bounce, a romantic drama of lovely, modest, and all too rare understatement, he plays a nice, charming guy who's a scoundrel at the same time, and the paradox looks good on him; it allows him to do his most winning and emotionally dynamic screen work to date. Affleck's Buddy Amaral is a sleek-suited Los Angeles advertising executive who likes women, whiskey, and shooting off his mouth. He lies for a living, and so the endless small fibs that grease his daily existence are nothing he thinks twice about. Affleck plays this fast-grin whippersnapper without a trace of the usual "hotshot" sleaze. He shows us Buddy's bad behavior, but also the suppressed undercurrents of decency that emerge as ripples of self-disgust.
One night, while waiting for a delayed flight, Buddy corrals a couple of strangers into having drinks with him, and when it becomes clear that he can have a ''layover'' with a sexy blond, he gives his ticket away to Greg Janello (Tony Goldwyn), an aspiring playwright desperate to get home to his family. When the plane crashes, killing everyone on board, Buddy, realizing how close he came, goes through a bit of a crash himself, sinking into booze and guilt and making contact with Greg's widow, Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has gone to work as a realtor. She's got two kids, sad eyes, and a manner as delicate and inviting as her smile. Buddy is smitten, but he also wants to make amends, and so he passes himself off as a client, inviting Abby to broker his office's incipient real-estate deal. The romance that commences is based on trust, communion and deception. For if Buddy reveals how he found his way to Abby, he'll make himself look like a rank opportunist. A lie now sustains and threatens his love.
This is Roos' second feature, but anyone who saw his first, The Opposite of Sex, with its synthetic barbed tangle of bitch-cracking dysfunction, may think that he's undergone a personality implant. Bounce is as quiet and sad and lyrical as The Opposite of Sex was brassy. Everything in it is played for cleansing low-key realism, whether it's Buddy's drunken outburst at the Clio Awards, the laidback tenor of his office politics, or his blooming relationship with Abby. Affleck and Paltrow are on screen together for most of the film, and anyone looking for a gossipy echo of their off-camera relationship will find it in a surprising way: not in any ''hot'' chemistry but in their dueling sincere spirits, their touching match of gentleness and intellectual vivacity. Paltrow, as supple an actress as we've got, makes Abby ''ordinary'' not through some bogus accent or wardrobe but by giving her recognizable reserves of fear, joy, melancholy, and survivor's pluck. And Affleck digs deeper than he ever has. Watching Bounce, you look at him and believe how much he's got at stake, and you look at Paltrow and know why. A-