Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 2016. Amazon Studios, K Period Media, Pearl Street Films, The Media Farm, The Affleck/Middleton Project, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, CMP, OddLot Entertainment. Screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan. Cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes. Produced by Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh. Music by Lesley Barber. Production Design by Ruth De Jong. Costume Design by Melissa Toth. Film Editing by Jennifer Lame. Academy Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016. Gotham Awards 2016. Independent Spirit Awards 2016. New York Film Critics Awards 2016. Toronto International Film Festival 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
A Boston janitor (Casey Affleck) works for demanding tenants all day and drinks alone in his miserable basement apartment at night, except for the evenings he spends picking fights in bars to release his pent-up aggression. He heads back to his home town when he gets the news that his brother (Kyle Chandler) has died of congestive heart failure, then learns that he not only has to take care of his brother’s property, including a fishing boat whose pricey upkeep needs to be addressed, but has also been appointed guardian to his teenage nephew (a terrific Lucas Hedges). Affleck is determined to wrap things up and go back to his hovel in the city, denying without explanation his nephew’s pleas that he stay in their town so he can finish school. Perfectly determined and tonally affecting flashbacks begin to pop up as the present day scenes progress, and the depths of sorrow that the character’s past experiences bring up are ones that sink you deeply into a masterful study of tragedy. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, whose films frequently have death as a jumping off point, does better with grief (like this and You Can Count On Me) than with trauma (Margaret); unlike his previous, perpetually miscalculated film, this one succeeds in part because Lonergan never tries to bring anything to a comfortable, pat resolution, and partly because of how much quietly simmering emotion exists beneath these people’s brave, barely coping surfaces. Affleck does the majority of the work in this regard and is astonishing at making it look easy, timing his responses somewhere between incredulity and offhanded sarcasm and providing the relief of humour that the levels of sadness that are touched upon here greatly need. Michelle Williams is effective in a supporting role as someone who shares Affleck’s tragic past.