Reviewed by Gordon Nary
This is a powerful haunting film essentially about the pain and challenges of dealing with guilt.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a withdrawn handyman with overwhelming guilt and anger issues as a result of accidentally causing the death of his daughters and infant son in a house fire he inadvertently caused while high on drugs. .After returning home after his brother's hearth attack and sudden death Lee is told by the family’s lawyer that he is now the legal guardian of his brother’s teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) with whom he had previously had a close relationship when he was much younger. While the primary narrative is a resolution of Patrick’s need to remain at his school and his life in Manchester which revolves around his girl friends, sports, and his rock band, rather than return with Lee to Quincy where Patrick knows he would be miserable.
Meanwhile we watch Lee’s eyes as he deals with morgues, wills, and he impossible cost of keeping a boat with a failing motor that Patrick loves. The emptiness in Lee’s life is reflected in his eyes which may be the most haunting visceral element of Affleck’s brilliant portrayal of a man who life is marked by an inability to connect with nearly everyone. Possibly the most powerful scene in the on a sidewalk where Lee and his estranged wife Randi [Michelle Williams] reconnect and we better understand the dimension of Lee’s emptiness.
Every performance is so perfect that each actor, as well as the director (Kenneth Lonergan), producer (Matt Damon) ,cinematographer (Jody Lee Lipes) and film editor (Jennifer Lame) whose concept of integrating the flashbacks is fascinating. will receive countless awards.
But ii is Lee's grief that haunts us. There is a Catholic subtext to the story since the Chandlers are Catholic and there may be a perception by some that the Lee's guilt is more Catholic than simply human. But it is also a story of the gift of amazing grace which is how the grief and guardianship is resolved and provides for a continuing relationship of love between Lee and Patrick.