Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The next Casey Affleck

When I saw the name Scoot McNairy in the closing credits for Killing Them Softly on Saturday, I thought "Okay, maybe I did know that actor who played Frankie." Except just because I could identify the name (it's a pretty unforgettable one) didn't mean I could identify the face. I still didn't remember how I knew him, only that I remembered reading his name recently.

It was only on the drive home that I realized that Scoot McNairy was also in Argo, in quite a different role. No wonder I wouldn't have recognized him, beyond a vague sense that he looked familiar.

In Softly, McNairy plays a lowest-guy-on-the-totem-pole hood who is hired to rob an illegal card game. The Dallas-born actor gives us one of those Boston accents that's authentic enough that only people from Boston (see: Affleck family) can usually produce them. In Argo, however, he's one of the state department employees stranded in the Canadian ambassador's Tehran home, a bit of a pipsqueak actually, though he ultimately asserts his will more than any of the other characters in his position. Still, it's a huge difference in overall physicality between the two roles.

But it's not just his physical appearance and range that cause me to compare him to Casey Affleck. In fact, these two roles suggest McNairy may exceed Affleck in terms of range.

What causes me to compare him to Affleck is that it's kind of a surprise Affleck himself was not cast in these two roles.

Killing Them Softly was directed by Australian director Andrew Dominik (hence the casting of the terrific Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, whom you may remember from his unforgettable role in Animal Kingdom). Dominik also directed The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which starred his Softly leading man Brad Pitt ... and Casey Affleck.

Argo was directed by Ben Affleck ... Casey's brother.

The fact that McNairy was cast in films directed by two people who have a history with Casey seems to suggest that both directors were going for "a Casey Affleck type" in those roles, since for one reason or another they were not able to hire the genuine article. Or perhaps both directors didn't want to be so predictable or on-the-nose, Dominik feeling like he didn't want to return both leads from his previous film, and Affleck feeling he'd already made too many movies featuring his brother (though older brother only directed younger in Gone Baby Gone).

And though I once thought otherwise, being "a Casey Affleck type" is most certainly a good thing.

When Casey first emerged as a person I was aware of, a couple years after Ben became famous, I thought he seemed like a bit of a piss ant, a smirking, substance-free beneficiary of all that nepotism has to offer.

This was not based on any of his film work, mind you. It was an impression born almost entirely of my limited perception of his public persona, and I must assume it was based on something very irrational. I still didn't particularly like him in the small roles in which I saw him, but that's probably because they didn't provide him enough screen time to overcome my petty impression of what he brought to the table. Sometimes you just have an instinctive negative response to someone, you know?

But by the time he commanded the screen in the aforementioned (Affleckmentioned?) Gone Baby Gone, I decided that Ben's little brother had some serious chops. And I decided that maybe the thing I hadn't liked about him was what made him so different from his brother, whom I did initially like and like again now (let's forget about those intervening "dark years"). While Ben had classic leading man good looks and was on the path toward becoming a genuine movie star, Casey had the squirrelly appearance you usually associate with a character actor.

Traditionally, which of these two archetypes is the better actor? You guessed it -- the character actor, who isn't handsome enough to skate by on his looks, and therefore has to bring it every time. Which Casey basically does.

There's a place in this world for both Bens and Caseys, but if you appreciate the craft of acting, you are usually better off with the Caseys. To take it out of the Affleck family -- George Clooney is incredibly fun to watch, but if you want an award-worthy performance, you're probably better off seeing a Paul Giamatti movie. (I say this, of course, knowing that the current Oscar tally for these two actors is Clooney 1, Giamatti 0. Clooney also has more nominations and has also been nominated as a director and screenwriter. Okay, maybe I picked bad examples here.)

If McNairy's 2012 work is any indication, he could easily become the next type of actor producers would die to have in their movie.

"Get me the next Scoot McNairy!"

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