Casey Affleck Kyle Chandler Michelle Williams Lucas Hedges Gretchen Mol
Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) is a master of film, as so brilliantly displayed here by script and direction, acting (Affleck, Hedges, Williams), cinematography (Jody Lee Lipes), editing (Jennifer Lame), and a soundtrack perfectly apt for every scene (Lesley Barber). The movie unfolds organically, tracing the history of the acutely sensitive but emotionally closed off Lee Chandler (Affleck). It’s not clear in the beginning, but when we get the full story of this man’s adult life, we feel like we know him—not so much by what he says and doesn’t say as what we learn of what he has gone through and the reactions to
him of those around him.
The man is already carrying around a huge burden, and although the family has been warned, his brother’s death is naturally shocking. More shocking to Lee is that he is to be his nephew’s guardian, a role for which he is completely unprepared emotionally, but there is another issue. He left Manchester under a cloud and doesn’t want to return; but his nephew Patrick (Hedges) is still in high school and understandably doesn’t want to move away to Lee’s town. How this dilemma is resolved attests to Lonergan’s skill in honing in on real people and how they react to and solve problems; this is not a fairy tale.
The film is an exquisite portrayal of a traumatized man trying to connect with other people, whether they are strangers, current associates, or from his past. The boisterous, demonstrative scenes of him with his wife and children before the trauma are in stark contrast to his current way of relating, e.g., it took days and days before he could give his nephew a hug. We see the absolutely torturous condition of someone not being able to confide in anyone else. Lonergan gives us a picture of a man not only traumatized, but filled with guilt. Once we get this full picture, the way in which he resolves his dilemma is completely understandable. Without this understanding, we might judge him differently.
Casey Affleck is clearly in the news about his performance here, and it is well deserved. He must inhabit a character who shows little or no emotion, but conveys so much nonverbally to show us the deep rivers of emotion rushing through him. Lee has erected defenses so strong, that certain provocations will bring a torrent of action, yet others who are more gentle will leave him unmoved outwardly with a sea of turmoil beneath. Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams give fine supporting performances opposite Affleck, both reacting explosively to him but in different ways. I was struck by Hedges’ portrayal of a teenager who in some ways is more mature than the adult in charge of him.
Barber and Lipes provide music and cinematography that pair together inspiringly to convey the mood and temper of every scene. The opening views of a serene, picturesque seaside in the beginning contrasts with what we will see later in the, sometimes ugly, events that will ensue. Barber’s music will enhance whatever the scene is.
Understanding can be both a ravishing and a melancholy experience.