Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, this film may be his finest work yet. It is a devastating drama filled with fully rendered emotional characters. While it examines grief, guilt, longing and pain, it is also filled with moments of heart and humor.
Casey Affleck is heartbreaking and brilliant as Lee Chandler, who we first meet working as a janitor and living in a one room basement apartment. When he receives news that his brother Joe has died, he reluctantly returns to Manchester to make funeral arrangements and take care of his nephew and his brother's affairs. There is a terrible sadness to Lee that is revealed in flashbacks when he was married to Randee, played by Michele Williams. Ms. Williams is only in a few scenes but their final scene together is remarkable in it's brutal honesty.
The film moves back in forth in time to convey the full story. We see Lee and Joe, played by the always dependable Kyle Chandler in happier times with his young son Patrick, played later as a teenager by Lucas Hedges. Lee's relationship with his nephew after Joe's death dominates much of the film as both must come to terms with their own grief.
Gretchen Mol also co-stars as Joe's ex-wife and there is a one scene cameo by Matthew Broderick. The entire cast is excellent but it's the writing and direction by Mr. Lonergan that really make them shine. No shot or line of dialog is wasted. The actors bring this story to life in such human fashion, you can't help but leave the theater moved by the experience.