(director/writer: Kenneth Lonergan; cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes; editor: Jennifer Lame; music: Lesley Barber; cast: Casey Affleck (Lee Chandler), Michelle Williams (Randi), Kyle Chandler (Joe Chandler), Lucas Hedges (Patrick), CJ Wilson (George), Heather Burns (Jill), Tate Donovan (Hockey Coach), Josh Hamilton (Wes, lawyer), Anna Baryshnikov (Sandy), Kara Hayward (Silvie), Matthew Broderick (Jeffrey), Gretchen Mol (Elise Chandler), Jami Tennille Mingo (Janine), Liam McNeill (Josh, Randi’s husband), Missy Yager (Mrs. Olsen, tenant); Runtime: 139; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, Kevin J. Walsh, Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward; Amazon Studios; 2016)

“Thrives on its main character being articulate by being inarticulate.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”/”Margaret”), best known as a playwright, is the writer-director of this emotionally powerful drama. It’s a grim family drama about lingering guilt and loss, and how difficult it is to heal or find redemption. Though a film of unbearable grief it still manages to be humorous (in its teen sexual escapades) and a remarkably realistic tale of navigating the twists and turns of life. It’s an exceptional classical drama, that’s intelligently scripted and acted.Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) works as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, when he learns of the congestive heart failure death of his older commercial fisherman brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). He reluctantly returns to his Massachusetts coastal hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, an hour and a half away. Lee is still haunted by the accidental home fire he caused one night he was drunk, that killed his three small children and caused his grief-stricken wife Randi (Michelle Williams) to divorce him. It also left him as a pariah in the community.The family lawyer (Josh Hamilton) tells him that his brother’s will left him as the trustee of the estate and surprisingly as the guardian of his lively 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Joe divorced Patrick’s mom Elise (Gretchen Mol) a long time ago because she was an alcoholic and deserted the family. The uptight and self-hating Lee is not suited to look after the kid because he has nothing to give and is unwilling to live again in a place he has so many bad memories that still haunt him, while the kid refuses to leave his hometown. The slow moving but perfectly paced film lets us see Lee as he sees himself and others, as he withdraws from the world and can’t forget the past. Beside being uncommunicative, he has a bad temper whereby he gets into uncalled for fistfights in bars and can get surly with tenants he dislikes over minor issues. In his stay in Manchester, Lee observes that Patrick is well entrenched in town and has many friends, two girlfriends, plays with a rock band and is on the hockey team. The surrogate father and son grapple with each other, as Lee tries to figure out the best way to make this guardian arrangement work. Through flashbacks we see how the main characters interacted before the tragedy in Lee’s life, and we see how sociable Lee was back then. It’s an accomplished drama trying to better understand human nature and how dear forgiveness is when it’s sincere. It’s a film that thrives on its main character being articulate by being inarticulate. It profusely conveys the difficulties ordinary people have in dealing with traumatic events and in dealing with their inner-conflicts, while it makes things so real that we have no doubts about the story or the characters being credible.