This awards season contender from Kenneth Lonergan is a strong, intelligent and superbly-acted drama; it may lose out to more eye-catching films in certain categories, but the excellent work by star Casey Affleck may well be rewarded with a slew of bright, shiny gongs during the next few weeks (though I can’t really say whether it’ll be deserved if that does end up being the case, as I’ve yet to see some of the other performances that have been talked-up of late, or nominated). Anyway, leaving such chitter-chatter aside, I will simply say that Affleck is excellent here as a grieving, troubled (and alcoholic?) Boston janitor who must return to the titular Massachusetts hometown in the wake of his older brother’s death, ostensibly to look after his 16-year-old nephew (Lucas Hedges, also impressing). However, returning home means that he also has to address a previous, devestating tragedy, involving his ex-wife (a small supporting part played with typical skill by Michelle Williams).
I think it’s relevant to point out that Affleck’s own father was an alcoholic who worked as a carpenter, janitor and mechanic, among other jobs, so on top of dealing with the inherent, excruciating sadness of Lonergan’s screenplay there is an extra, personal dimension that has presumably informed the actor’s performance. The film deals with grief in an intelligent fashion, refusing to bend to convention by offering a silver lining or some sort of redemption for its characters at the end of a tough and chilly-looking two hours (it’s snowy and cold in a number of flashbacks, as well as the scenes set in the present day). It’s also filled with interesting characters who have been written with nuance by someone who understands people (as opposed to someone who just knows how to write people in movies) — there are contradictions in terms of the behaviour of nearly everyone in this story, whether they’re going through periods of intense change in their lives or have recently been through them and are still struggling to adapt on the other side, and Longergan’s has rendered all of them believable, whether they are central to the story or drop out of it for long periods. It’s a film with a heavy heart, but there are alleviating laughs to be found, as well as strong editing by Jennifer Lame, which manages to fuse the daydreamed reminiscences with the present very well indeed. Excellent. (*****)