Some films you watch to escape from the frequently painful and/or difficult reality of life. Pacific Rim, perhaps. Some films you watch to impose a satisfactory narrative onto the seemingly random chaos of life. Casablanca, maybe. And some films you watch to enter more deeply into life — the difficulty, the chaos, all of it. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s masterful Manchester by the Sea, which tells the story of a penitent exile who is asked to give up both his penance and his exile, falls into the third category. And it does so without a hint of bravado or flourish, except perhaps for a single devastating scene between the exile (Casey Affleck) and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams). But even there, everything is earned and nothing is wasted in service to anything beyond the characters themselves. Williams’ is only one of the outstanding performances surrounding Affleck; Lucas Hedges also merits mention for his portrayal of a teenager who remains recognizably human — and what’s more, recognizably himself — in the midst of adolescent grief. But it’s Affleck’s movie to quietly own as layer upon layer of Irish impassivity is stripped away from his visage until the unspeakable can be spoken. (It’s tempting to add, “Until the marble angel standing atop a tombstone is once more a man,” but that’s precisely the sort of high-flown hooey that Lonergan avoids.) (2016) — Matthew Lickona
This movie is not currently in theaters.