Tender, brutal and utterly mesmerising, the third feature from Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret; You Can Count on Me) as director is one of the most visually eloquent and emotionally devastating explorations of grief and redemption in recent cinema. Casey Affleck gives an Oscar-winning, career-defining performance as the laconic, calcified Lee, a man whose spare existence is suddenly ruptured when the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) forces him to return to the hometown he abandoned years before. Rocked by contact with his estranged ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the revelation that Joe has made him guardian of his teenage son (Lucas Hedges), Lee’s private torment deepens.
Lonergan harnesses all the cinematic potency of the wild and durable Massachusetts locations to magnify the unfathomable inner turmoil of a man so shattered by the consequences of one single mistake that he cannot reverse his retreat from life, even when faced with the responsibility of caring for someone else. The primary tragedy is revealed through a series of flashbacks that imbue the narrative with a foreboding urgency, often triggered by an emotional response to place, spoken exchanges, or the knowing stares and whispers of the townspeople. This is exacting filmmaking, profound and overwhelming.