Manchester By The Sea combines devastating tragedy with flashes of humour to create a film that is heartbreaking and emotional without ever being maudlin or histrionic.
Casey Affleck plays Lee, a gruff janitor living in a basement flat in Boston. After receiving the news that his older brother Joe has suddenly died, Lee has to make his way back to his former home, the snowbound titular Massachusetts town. Through a series of increasingly devastating flashbacks, we learn why Lee left in the first place, and why he is so reluctant to return.
Affleck's performance is astonishing, avoiding any showy, Oscar baiting wailing speeches. He is full of anger and pain, but it is always kept inside, hinted at with uncomfortable stares and gritted teeth.
The other main character is the town itself. The freezing weather drives one important element of the story, and the snow covered streets seem the perfect place for a character who keeps his emotions buried.
The film is ultimately about somebody coming to terms with what they have done and trying to find a way to move on. Kenneth Lonergan is smart enough (and respectful enough to the intelligence of his audience) to realise that this is a slice of real life. Lessons don't get learned, story strands don't get neatly tied up, but people change, and people learn about themselves and each other, and try to get on with life as best they can.