If there’s a more natural actor than Casey Affleck working in films today I’d like to hear about him. I wait for his films to come out like I once waited for those of Robert de Niro. He’s our new James Dean, our new Montgomery Clift.
He understands the conflicts inherent in every scene with an innate intelligence. He seems to do very little, slouching through his parts with that lazy high-pitched voice. But his apparent nonchalance hides a multitude of insights into the nuances of behaviour.
Here, as Lee Chandler, he gives a performance one can only call inspired.
Lee loses his children in a fire for which he’s responsible. His wife Randi (Michelle Williams) leaves him as a result. Then his brother, Joe, dies of a heart attack. Lee now goes off the rails – understandably. He takes to drink and gets into fights in bars.
He’s like a dead man walking for much of the film. When people speak to him he seems to take a few seconds to process what they’re saying even when it might appear obvious to the rest of us. This is great acting because it’s what we all do in real life. We don’t have scripts like actors do.
There are some sexual elements in the film which might offend viewers. If you can get past this you have a mini-masterpiece in store for you. It’s a poignant tale of longing and loneliness set against the raw beauty of the harbour town of the title. Haunting choral music underscores the action in seminal scenes.
The main plot concerns the troubled relationship between Lee and Patrick, Joe’s 16-year old son.
Joe’s wife has deserted him after hearing he had a bad heart.
As a result he has appointed Lee as Patrick’s guardian in his will.
Lee has too many problems of his own to want the extra burden of looking after a nephew.
The pair of them flash off each other. Both have been scarred by tragedy and both also have hair-trigger tempers.
Patrick is selfish. In many ways he regards Lee as a deadbeat. But a closeness develops between them, all the more powerful for simmering below the surface.
The last few scenes, chronicling this burgeoning closeness as they plan to part geographically, are brilliantly understated. Affleck can convey more by bouncing a tennis ball than most other actors could with a truncheon. The final image of them fishing together is one of the most sadly beautiful I’ve ever seen in a film.
Shortly before this the equally brilliant Williams has a scene with Affleck that’s a master class in acting from both of them. Each is on the point of tears – and you might be too. It’s heart-wrenching.
Lucas Hedges is also brilliant as the awkward, gawky Patrick.
He may never get a part as good as this again even if he lives to be 100.