Kenneth Lonergan may not be the most prolific of filmmakers, but the quality of the three films that he has directed over the past 16 years certainly makes up for that.

His latest Manchester By The Sea, joins You Can Count On Me and Margaret as another incisive and moving drama with a fantastic cast.

Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler who returns to the coastal fishing village of the title after his older brother dies. Becoming a reluctant guardian to his nephew Patrick, he struggles with the memories of a devastating tragedy several years earlier that led to him leaving in the first place.

A powerful and incredibly moving study of grief and depression, Manchester By The Sea could have ended up being a relentlessly depressing and dispiriting experience were it not for the welcome use of humour that is often used to alleviate the bleakness of the piece. The relationship between Lee and his nephew Patrick in particular is mined for plenty of very funny, awkward laughs as the two fail to reconnect. But when the darker moments land they hit hard.

In this regard it's hard to fault the strong cast. Affleck delivers his best role to date as the man who has maintained a distance from other people since events several years earlier. The sense of him bearing wounds that are never likely to completely heal is apparent in every inch of his guarded and distant body language. It's a surprising performance that deserves all the accolades. Michelle Williams is equally impressive and moving as Lee's wife Randi, while Kyle Chandler makes a strong impression in flashbacks as Lee's brother. Gretchen Mol, Tate Donovan and Matthew Broderick are also fine in smaller roles, with even Lonergan himself making an amusing third cameo in one of his own films. Most impressive of the rest of the cast however, is the relatively unknown Lucas Hedges as Patrick and it's his scenes with Affleck that really drive the film.

Emotionally devastating but deeply rewarding, Manchester By The Sea is essential viewing and highly recommended. Here's hoping it's not too long before Lonergan delivers his fourth feature.

By Kevin Knapman

Manchester By The Sea (15)

2h 17m

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson

UK Release: Friday 13th January 2017

Manchester By The Sea: "Not Moving" Clip

Manchester By The Sea: "Hey" Clip