Kenneth Lonergan / Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler / Drama / 2017 / 15 / 137mins
Grab the tissues, the most powerful cast performance from this year can be found right here in Kenneth Lonergan’s quiet indie masterpiece.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) lives a solitary life as a janitor in Boston. One day he gets a call: his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suffered a cardiac arrest. Before Lee can get to the hospital, Joe dies. This turn of events means Lee must look after Joe’s 16 year old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), in the town he exiled himself from – Manchester-by-the-Sea. The past soon comes back to haunt Lee, just as he is starting to reconcile with his estranged family. All the while, Patrick’s future remains in the balance.
To describe how heavy going Manchester by the Sea would be a great injustice. It is unbearable. I could throw some more adjectives into the mix but it’s hard to truly explain the story’s deep lying trauma. Lonergan deserves a pat on the back. Under his direction, the puzzle is pieced slowly together, and both past and present are filled with suffering. Flashbacks pierce the narrative with jarring cuts that are harrowing. Even location means everything. The landscape is perpetually dreary, the endless sea casts uncertainty. Lonergan has been careful to create this bleak world. There is no escape.
Like all great dramas, a fantastic cast is essential. Somehow Lonergan’s pulled it off. Affleck as Lee was a wise choice indeed. He carries his guilt in everything he does. He doesn’t look sad – he looks tired from being sad. It’s an amazingly fresh take on grief. Hedges captures an immaturity that would otherwise seem childish. His layered performance casts him as reckless – avoiding his father’s fate with life’s other frivolities. Williams, as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, gets around 20 minutes of screen time, but it’s enough to pour out a wealth of sorrow – her monologue undoubtedly a highlight.
I fear that most people will be oblivious to the darkness of Manchester by the Sea, as weird as that sounds. Yes, you’re going to feel sad, but there’s no cathartic edge. An intentional cop-out to tie the loose ends straddles a dangerous line. On the one hand, the middle lacks punches in scenes where there’s not much on the agenda – the runtime drags. On the other, the grief is utterly relentless. And when the end comes, it makes you want to crawl under your duvet and weep. This fictional world comes to life, even if it dwells in death.
A soul destroying movie that leaves you feeling hopelessly lost. Nonetheless, this is essential viewing to understanding past and present trauma. Great core cast, great script, great direction – the very same mix that also benefited Jackie and Moonlight.
Film as a Film – 5 / Target Audience – 5 / General Audience – 3
Manchester by the Sea is available on DVD and Amazon Prime
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