Considering how much Lee Chandler's reputation precedes him, it's not too surprising that he wouldn't be eager to return to the scene of his supposed crimes. As played by Casey Affleck in Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea -- the writer/director's third feature and first since the grudgingly released Margaret -- Lee is a man who has internalized his not inconsiderable pain, holding everyone at arm's length with his abrasive manner and general aloofness. As much as he tries to keep himself to himself, early on Lonergan drops a bombshell on him in the form of a phone call informing him his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has been felled by a heart attack. It takes a bit more time, though, for the other shoe to drop -- namely, that Lee has been named the trustee of his gregarious 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) despite his longstanding belief that he was "just the back-up."
Instead of laying out Lee's backstory in a linear fashion, Lonergan reveals it piecemeal, dropping flashbacks into scenes with no fanfare, trusting the viewer to recognize when Lee is wallowing in the past. In this way, his relationship with Joe is fleshed out and the more fractious one with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) is established. (For her part, Randi has since moved on with her life -- something Lee seems unable or unwilling to.) Meanwhile, Joe's ex-wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) gets in touch with Patrick and attempts to repair their bond by inviting him to a most awkward lunch with her extremely Christian fiancé Jeffrey (Lonergan stalwart Matthew Broderick). The key relationship, though, is the one between Lee, who doesn't want to be responsible for anyone else, and Patrick, who's cocky enough to believe he can make his own life decisions, including where to live and what's going to become of his father's boat, which Lee is all for selling. How these issues get resolved may be a little neater than it needs to be, but Lonergan makes sure his characters' victories, however little, are honestly won.