MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
FILM REVIEW - MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Running Length: 137 minutes
Release Date: 13th January 2017
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Written by: Kenneth Lonergan
Cinematography: Jodi Lee Lipes
``A real emotional workout.``
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor living a solitary existence in the basement of a nondescript apartment complex in Massachusetts. Lee is either incapable of or unwilling to engage in social niceties, and his taciturn manner causes problems with some of the apartment block’s residents.
When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suffers a sudden heart attack, Lee has to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Here, he’s not “Lee the Janitor” but “The Lee Chandler”, urban legend and a source of tragic local gossip. Unbeknownst to Lee, his brother had appointed him as legal guardian to his precocious teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), effectively trapping him in the town surrounded by the painful memories that he’s been trying to escape.
Manchester by the Sea is a meditation on the debilitating, long-term effect of grief. Through a series of linear and abstract flashbacks, director Kenneth Lonergan gradually exposes the source of Lee’s trauma, which is finally revealed mid-movie in a devastating sequence. We are shown a glimpse of Lee’s self-destructive streak in an early scene where he incites an unprovoked bar fight, but this takes on a different meaning with the benefit of hindsight.
Each little vignette fills in another piece of the puzzle as Affleck slowly builds a beautifully-realised character study of an individual hell-bent on self-flagellation. The actor wears melancholy like a heavy winter coat. Without uttering a single line of dialogue, Affleck can convey this heavy burden with a hunched shoulder or a simple tilt of the head. And yet he never plays Lee as a victim. It’s a masterclass in understatement.
If there’s a weak link here, then it’s Michelle Williams. Why she has decided to play Lee’s ex-wife by channelling Cyndi “Oh. Moy. Gawd.” Lauper is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s down to Affleck’s restraint, but Williams’ performance is simply too large – too broad – for her intimate surroundings. But this is nit-picking.
Some welcome moments of dark comedy undercut the tension and ensure that Lonergan’s movie never veers too far into sentimental, saccharine territory. Manchester by the Sea is a real emotional workout. It’s a great palette cleanser and the perfect way to blow off the post-Christmas cobwebs.