Who is Casey Affleck, and why is he the hottest
“young” actor in movies at the moment?
Up until this year, Casey Affleck seemed like a
negligible actor. He had appeared with his big brother
Ben as one of the four buddies who rode around in Good
Will Hunting. And he was a member of Danny Ocean’s
entourage in the Ocean’s trilogy.
Hardly the stuff of stardom– or even, notice.
But in the fall of 2007 Casey Affleck is starring
in two major releases — The Assassination of Jesse
James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Gone Baby Gone.
Casey Affleck — who stars as the cowboy assassin
Robert Ford and also as Boston private eye Patrick
Kenzie — is a very appropriate actor to embody the
themes of moral confusion and moral conflict. Both
films focus powerfully on these themes.
Casey looks much younger than his 32 years. He
looks 19; in fact, in The Assassination of Jesse
James, he portrays 19-year old Bob Ford.
Affleck the Younger is almost spindly, with a
youthful face that goes from a cautious gaze to fitful
glances. Although he can be violent, he always seems
vulnerable. He ranges from callow immaturty to quiet
Casey’s appearance as Robert Ford was a revelation.
Six months later, he starred in the first movie
directed by brother Ben, Gone Baby Gone.
Unfortunately Warner Bros. thought The
Assassination of Jesse James was uncommercial, and
shelved it for a while. It finally was released about
the same time as Casey’s later venture. They released
it with very little support. Gone Baby Gone has had
I can’t recommend The Assassination of Jesse James
to almost everyone, as I did recently with Into the
Wild. But I can say — want to say — that everyone
who considers himself or herself a lover of film
should make an effort to see this remarkable movie.
For some it will be the best film of the year; for
others, it will be the worst film of the year.
It puts up obstacles, it’s a psychological
western, painterly, poetic, and it’s not average.
It’s one of a kind.
It does have reflections of other westerns –
Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Buffalo Bill and
the Indians, Eastwood’s Unforgiven, and Peckinpah’s
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. And it has a strong
dose of Terrence Malick’s slow, seeping, evocative
The Assassination of Jesse James is a series of
vignettes. Some are extraordinarily beautiful — the
night robbery of a train, Jesse walking on an
ice-covered river, a lone rider approaching a
What is a surprise about the glorious images of
director Andrew Dominick and cinematographer Roger
Deakins is how much suspense they engender. One is not
sure what will happen, or more importantly, when it will happen. The tension crackles amidst the barren furnishings and serene
The imagery is stark, glowing, flickering,
shimmering. Potent. That is, if one sees it — really
Brad Pitt, who won the Best Actor award at the
Venice Film Festival, plays Jesse — moody, ornery,
thoughtful, walking the sharp edges of psychosis.
His young doppelganger is Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) whose
boyish infatuation turns into something else.
Director Dominik, born in New Zealand, adapted the
screenplay from Ron Hansen’s novel. He strikes some
false notes with his dialogue. It’s sometimes too
modern — “Thank you for asking.” “Woman, shut your
But Dominik captures the human condition –
seething anger, nervous guilt, eruptions of violence,
Human miscalculation is one of the bonds that
connects the two performances by Casey Affleck.
Gone Baby Gone is a thick New England “chowdah.”
Contrived but engrossing, it is a movie in which
director Ben Affleck has pursued a significant vision.
Adapted by himself and fellow screenwriter Aaron
Stockard, it is based on the lengthy novel by Dennis
Lehane — the fourth in a series about private eyes
Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro
The pair of private detectives get involved in a
perplexing case when they are hired by the aunt (Amy
Madigan) of a missing four-year old girl. The case leads
the pair into a morass of moral ambiguity.
It becomes harrowing and haunting.
Director Affleck has utilized Dorchester, a working
class neighborhood of Boston. He also has a first-rate
cast including Amy Ryan, Ed Harris and Morgan
Freeman and a glut of local color.
A major character in Gone Baby Gone is television.
It has a detrimental effect on celebrity and culture,
even in the old neighborhood. It does its damage. It’s
everywhere. The last image of the movie emphasizes
I wish the pivotal bar scene made more sense, but two-thirds of the movie is worthy. I think of myself as pretty smart about movies, but Gone Baby Gone outsmarted me.
A tip of my Red Sox cap to the Afflecks, et al.
I assume reviewers will turn against Casey Affleck.
Right now they have granted him a free ride. I expect
most to say of his next movie, “He looks too young for
It’s the price of success.
Enjoy yourself, Casey. At least for a while. But
don’t turn your back.
Remember there will be people out there gunning for