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Posts Tagged ‘Casey Affleck’

As long as Kirk Douglas is still with us, the position of Greatest Living Movie Legend is filled, but there are a bunch of honourable mentions just bubbling under, most of them (naturally) ladies and gentlemen of a certain age. Doris Day is 96, Angela Lansbury is 93, Sidney Poitier is 91, and Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood are both 88. Compared to these guys, at only 82 Robert Redford is practically a brash young whipper-snapper, and still feels like a vital and energetic figure in the world of cinema – largely because of his work as a producer and director, and as founder of the Sundance film festival (it is perhaps telling that many younger people are likely aware of Sundance without appreciating the provenance of the name). On the other hand, it’s not as if Redford has ever completely vanished from the screen – there is probably a generation of young viewers who are only really aware of him as the senior bad guy in The Winter Soldier, a role which Redford apparently took mainly because it would be a change of pace and he was interested in learning about the technology involved in making a modern blockbuster.

All this is about to change, of course, as Redford has announced his retirement from screen acting, his final role being the lead in David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun (and produced by Redford himself). This is a mostly true story concerning the doings of Forrest Tucker (played by Redford), a man with an unshakeable love of robbing banks and a comparable fondness for busting out of the various institutions his first passion tends to get him stuck in (at one point escaping from San Quentin in a home-made sail boat). The movie opens with Tucker ambling out of a bank, getting into his car and driving off, only to stop and discreetly change vehicles after only a couple of blocks. Heedless of the police cars zooming about the area, sirens wailing, he goes on to stop and help Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a woman whose car has broken down. Naturally, he refrains from telling her his vocation – or perhaps it’s better to say he doesn’t force the issue when she refuses to believe him on this topic, as he’s just such a warm and pleasant man.

Tucker’s string of bank robberies continues, sometimes alone, sometimes with a couple of equally elderly accomplices (Tom Waits and Danny Glover) – he has a police scanner disguised as a hearing aid, which helps with the getaways. One day he happens to rob a bank which is being visited by down-at-heel police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), managing to do so with hardly anyone noticing. Hunt becomes fascinated by this curiously courteous bank robber (‘Chin up, you’re doing a great job,’ says Tucker to one sobbing cashier) and gets himself assigned to the case of the ‘over the hill gang’. Will Forrest’s growing relationship with Jewel finally motivate him to pack in his criminal career? Or will the forces of law and order finally catch up with their man?

Well, at one point I was planning to watch this with my friend Olinka, who (as regular readers will know) is a sucker for anything which vaguely resembles a thriller. I’m quite glad we didn’t (in the end she decided to go and see Aquaman with me instead), as, despite the bank-robbing-police-manhunt elements of the plot, this isn’t really the kind of film it looks like. On paper it sounds like it has a lot in common with King of Thieves from earlier this year, another film about a gang of superannuated bank robbers, and indeed there are a few things they have in common – in both cases, footage and publicity shots from old movies is re-used to depict the characters as younger men (here we are treated to reminders of Twilight Zone-Death-era Redford, Butch Cassidy-era Redford, and Out of Africa-era Redford) – but while the British film came on like a blackish comedy and gradually acquired an edge of genuine menace, The Old Man & the Gun isn’t really any kind of thriller, but a gentle and low-key character piece (the old man is in the majority of the scenes but the gun never gets used).

The relationship between Redford and Spacek is charming and believable, but the heart of the film is really the relationship (such as it is) between Redford and Affleck. Hunt is apparently a man who has all the important things in life – a beautiful wife and children, a decent job, and so on – yet Affleck manages to suggest a subtle melancholy and a sense of a man who is subtly dissatisfied with his lot. One of the things which fascinates him about Tucker is the fact that, quite apart from the fact that everyone comments on what a nice man he is, he is grinning broadly as he goes about his business. Tucker, the film suggests, is one of those fortunate people who has found the secret of genuine happiness – it’s just that in his case, the secret is to get his fix of robbing banks and escaping from prison on a regular basis. Apart from this, he seems to be a lovely chap.

If the film is trying to make a point about how everyone is different and this makes Tucker’s lengthy criminal career somehow excusable – and, aided by the megawatt power of Robert Redford’s natural charisma, it is almost impossible not to like him by the end of the film – then it does so in a very understated way. This is a very understated film in almost every way, naturalistic and low-key, with a great period soundtrack (it is mostly set in the early 80s). It has to be said that, after an interesting start, the plot ends up just meandering along, really turning into just a series of undeniably effective character vignettes. There are no great character epiphanies by the end, but you do come away with a distinct sense that Forrest Tucker was a man entirely at peace with himself.

Is it too much to say the same is clearly true of Redford himself? It’s easy to get a bit sentimental at a moment like this. As a valedictory appearance before the camera, this is a great summation of everything that has made him such a star: charisma, intelligence, and subtlety. Even the greatest movie stars seldom get the swan songs they deserve, but Robert Redford has come very close to it here, I think. An extremely well-made and very likeable film.

 

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In the great firmament of Hollywood stars, Casey Affleck has always been the equivalent of Sirius B: which is not to say that he is actually a dwarf, just that it has been very easy to overlook him given that his big brother is an acclaimed actor, screenwriter, director, and Batman. This may be about to change, for Affleck Minor is attracting a lot of attention for his formidably accomplished performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea.

manchester

What’s that you cry? Manchester isn’t by the sea. Manchester is only really noted for its ship canal (and its cotton industry and football teams and history as both a musical powerhouse and a trainer of first-rate EFL teachers). Well, thing is, it ain’t that Manchester; the film is concerned with Manchester-by-the-Sea, which apparently really is the name of a small town in Massachusetts.

Or perhaps I should say it’s concerned with a small group of former and current inhabitants of the town, primarily Lee (Affleck Minor), who as the story starts is working as a janitor in the greater Boston area. We are shown some of the day-to-day of Lee’s routine, and it gradually becomes apparent that while he appears quiet and unremarkable, Lee is actually a fairly heavy-duty piece of work, responding quickly and with violence (verbal and physical) to anyone who pushes him.

Not the most sympathetic of characters, then, even when he is summoned home to Manchester after his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suffers a heart attack and passes away. This does not come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows the family, but what is a little startling – to Lee, anyway – is that Joe’s will makes him the legal guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Quite apart from everything else, taking on this role will either mean moving Patrick to Boston, an idea he fiercely resists, or Lee’s moving back to Manchester – something he is equally against. He has history and a rather black reputation in this town, and there is also the presence of his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), with whom he has a strained relationship, to say the least…

I’m curious to see how well Manchester by the Sea does when the awards season really gets going in earnest, for while it certainly deserves to be in contention for major prizes, I suspect many people will be in the mood for a slightly more hopeful narrative, and perhaps one less ballasted with reality, than we get here. Make no mistake, this is a very fine film, but it’s a pint of bitter rather than a cocktail. It fits seamlessly into a tradition of gritty narratives about life in small-town, blue-collar America, and much about the structure and subject matter of the piece is rather theatrical – I can imagine a lengthy process of everyone developing their characters together, improvising, working out the story, even though for all I know every single word was scripted by Lonergan well in advance of production.

As a result this is a film driven by character and atmosphere rather than incident, and there are the kind of discursive scenes you don’t tend to find in much genre cinema: a group of teenagers argue about whether Star Trek is any good or not, people go fishing together, and there’s quite a long scene where two characters forget where they parked and wander about trying to find their car. It’s all quite naturalistic – a distinct lack of non-diegetic music, except at key moments in the story – but the characters are vividly drawn and very engaging. I baulked a bit at seeing the nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time for this film, but while I was watching found that it didn’t drag at all, despite the illusion of not very much seeming to happen.

As you might expect, this is really an actor’s movie, and primarily Affleck Minor’s. This is not to say that Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and particularly Lucas Hedges are not very good indeed, it’s just that they have limited screen time in secondary roles (also turning up for an unexpected but well-executed cameo is Matthew Broderick, who I didn’t think I’d seen on the big screen – or indeed any other kind of screen – since Godzilla – clearly I’ve bleached the remake of The Stepford Wives from my memory core. Consider your penance served, Matt, it’s nice to see you again away). The film is Affleck’s, for it essentially concerns a particular kind of inarticulate masculinity of which his character is the chief exponent. Many of the scenes just concern men failing to quite connect with each other, with the story developing in the interstices between their personalities, and Affleck does an exemplary job of suggesting character without once being caught acting.

Much of the film’s drama and emotion comes from Lee’s past and his inability to process it, while much of its warmth and humour arise out of his attempts to take on an avuncular role for which he is really very ill-equipped. It says something for Affleck Minor’s achievement that he takes a character who initially comes across as an alarming loner with a hair-trigger temper and makes you care for him as a sympathetic, almost heroic figure, and does this without recourse to histrionics or cheap sentiment. If in the end he remains all too human, well, that’s part of what the film is about, which is the realities of life and emotion.

But, as I say, do audiences and awards juries really want reality right at this moment in time? I doubt it, somehow. (And exactly do you compare, for instance, Affleck Minor’s superbly actorly performance here with Goosey-Goosey Gosling’s brilliant song-and-dance turn in La La Land?) Nevertheless, this is a superbly well-made film and a very rewarding one to watch.

 

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