Bond of Brothers

Ben and Casey Affleck at the Chicago premiere of
Ben and Casey Affleck at the Chicago premiere of "Gone Baby Gone," which is winning praise for the elder's direction and the younger brother's acting chops. (By Jerry Lai -- Associated Press)
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck. Unfortunately, backward reels the mind. That lonesome whistle blows. The tracks. The train. The wreck.

Capt. Rafe in "Pearl Harbor." A role which will live in infamy. Then "Gigli." Stop. It hurts. Then "Surviving Christmas." And they say we don't torture people. One of his last movies, "Man About Town," wasn't even released in theaters. Can you imagine?

So it is with genuine human feeling, and a sense of -- what? Exhaustion? Relief? -- that we can announce that Ben Affleck has successfully directed his first movie, starring his very own brother, and . . . people are respecting it.

"A thoughtful, deeply poignant, splendidly executed film," says the Hollywood Reporter. Variety praised the movie's crisp acting and moral complexity, and said, essentially, it's all going to be okay.

Were it a pileup, you would have to avert your eyes. But it is good. Or at least good enough. And here comes director Ben Affleck now, ambling down the hallway of the hotel with his brother, the actor Casey Affleck, by his side. Casey, who works hard -- beside Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris -- in the gritty Boston detective thriller about a missing child, "Gone Baby Gone," which opens nationwide Friday (while Casey simultaneously appears opposite Brad Pitt in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford").

The brothers take up their positions on a couch.

Ben is dressed in a fantastically starched shirt. With his studio-white teeth and the manicured blue shadow of beard, he appears almost airbrushed, if not for the fact that his fly is open, which totally works. He looks adult, alert, suspicious.

As opposed to Casey, who is a furniture sprawler. He's married to Joaquin Phoenix's sister Summer. He's a PETA vegan. He looks as if he had just tumbled out of a laundry basket, canvas blazer over rumpled white shirt, which is how successful young Hollywood actors look. They wear sneakers. They put their sneakers up on the coffee table.

The brothers on the couch are three years apart -- Ben 35 and Casey 32 -- so Casey was a freshman when Ben was a senior at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, the school for smart kids in Boston. "Growing up, we spent a lot of time together, same circle, same gang," Casey says. That gang included their friends Matt Damon and Aaron Stockard, who wrote the adapted screenplay for "Gone Baby Gone" with Ben.

"Tag, football in the street, Little League, basketball," Ben says. Message: normalcy. "We ran around and we rode our bikes. Our mom was a teacher, teaches fifth grade, still teaches; she's retiring next year. Same school. Our dad moved out. So we were a single-parent situation, single income, whatever you call it, and we went to public school and we had a fairly typical Boston kid life."

They lived in Central Square, which is just one stop on the T but a world away from Harvard, where their father worked as a janitor for a while. He had a drinking problem. All these well-worn worry beads of the Affleck family biography were widely disseminated 10 years ago during the successful Oscar campaign for "Good Will Hunting," which won the Academy Award for screenwriting for Ben and Matt, though people forget that Casey also appeared in the film as Morgan O'Mally, the foul-mouthed little mook.

"Our mother's best friend in town was a local casting director," Casey says. That would be Patty Collins. "We would get brought in to be extras or go on local commercials. That was my introduction to it. That's how I first remember knowing what an actor was. I played baseball until I was 15, but I wasn't good enough, really, so it was more appealing to go do summer musical that year, which was me and 19 girls. That was the first time I did theater. We had this amazing theater teacher who inspired everyone, and people fell in love with him, and anybody who had him wanted to be an actor. I dunno. Maybe it was same for Ben and Matt, too."

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