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Grief comes in many forms in "Manchester by the Sea," writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's achingly beautiful drama about a man forced to reconnect with the family he felt unworthy to keep close.

Lee Chandler (played by Casey Affleck) works as a maintenance man in a Boston apartment complex, fixing electrical and plumbing problems for a wide array of residents. He lives in a small basement apartment and generally tries to remove himself from the outer world as much as possible.

Lee gets word that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died from a heart condition. Lee has to return to the hometown he left behind, the coastal city of Manchester, Mass., to deal with funeral arrangements and other matters. One of those is the reading of Joe's will, which leaves Lee with custody of Joe's 16-year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Lee is reluctant to take on raising Patrick, whose mother, Elise (Gretchen Mol), an alcoholic when Patrick was growing up, long ago moved from Manchester. Lee would prefer to take Patrick to Boston, but Patrick wants to stay in Manchester, where his friends — including his two girlfriends, Silvie (Kara Hayward) and Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov) — and his hockey team are.

As Lee insists on the move, it becomes clear there's something else at work, something involving the family he once had in Manchester with his wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and an event about which he remains silent. It's something bottled up in Lee, and sometimes the pressure causes him to start bar fights or otherwise lash out.

Lonergan, who wrote the acclaimed sibling drama "You Can Count on Me" (2000) and the beloved but troubled "Margaret" (2011), applies a novelist's eye for character detail and a sense of place. As the film goes on, a viewer can almost smell the ocean breeze and shiver with the winter chill, and feel Lee's palpable sense of grief — not just for his brother, but for something even more tragic.

Affleck, emerging from big brother Ben's shadow, gives a heartbreaking performance. Often without words — because there are no words for what Lee has been through, and few in town who would have the strength to hear them — Affleck conveys the heavy weight Lee carries as he tries to reconcile his responsibilities to Patrick with his resistance to reclaiming his old life in Manchester.

With a strong supporting cast, led by Hedges and Williams, "Manchester by the Sea" paints a rich and touching portrait of a family's grief, and one man drawn back to deal with the past he tried to put behind him. It's a movie that will resonate in the heart long after the credits roll.

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'Manchester by the Sea'

A man deals with grief, and his past, in filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan's heartbreaking small-town drama.

Where • Area theaters.

When • Opens Friday, Dec. 9.

Rating • R for language throughout and some sexual content.

Running time • 137 minutes.