I confess that I am a devout fan of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan who makes a brief Hitchcokian appearance in this outstanding film. Seldom do we see a movie that summons such enormous and emotional empathy without devolving into a tearjerker, though you will not only cry but feel your heart stop beating during certain scenes. Having said this, I will add that there is also the requisite amount of humor, anger and unsettled family matters that characterize Lonergan’s work.
Casey Affleck plays Lee, a divorced man at odds with himself and his world, who is summoned to assume guardianship of his teenage nephew after his brother’s sudden death. Through flashbacks we learn Lee’s backstory as well as that of the other principal characters - his ex-wife, his brother, his sister-in-law (the boy’s mother) and a close family friend. We also learn of a tragedy so immense that it has the effect of tilting the balance of the film after its revelation. This is unquestionably a dilemma for the viewer who will have as difficult a time moving on from the impact of this as Lee, a lonely and isolated man paralyzed by guilt and memory. It skews our ability to consider any of the other more current problems he is asked to face that pale in comparison. Structurally, the movie would have worked better without as shattering an event in the recent past but this movie is redeemed by its restrained acting, its wonderful inter-acting within the family and community and above all, Casey Affleck’s performance which allows you to feel what’s going on in his head without his batting an eye or uttering a word.
At a time when too many people are indulging in hysteria over an orderly election - not a coup d’etat or assassination - it’s particularly moving to see Affleck’s stoical determination to live up to his responsibilities as best he can. I recommend that grief-stricken students and disappointed voters leave their safe spaces and therapy dogs and see this movie instead. It will surely restore their perspective concerning life’s very real tragedies and help them to appreciate the essential things that make or break our private lives.
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