Film Reviews

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

By • Dec 5th, 2016 •

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Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a loner carrying a heavy burden. His penance is working as a handyman for several apartment buildings in Boston. He lives in a barren room. He can only tolerate so much abuse from impatient tenants and one night starts a fight in a bar.

Lee gets a call that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died suddenly and in his will he has given Lee guardianship of Patrick, (Lucas Hedges) his 16-year-old son. Lee was once very close to Patrick until something happened to make Lee a pariah in Manchester.

The tragedy that has frozen Lee cannot be undone and everyone in town knows what happened. He’s not welcomed back – even if it is to bury his brother and straighten out his fishing business.

Did Lee accidently kill a kid in high school? Did he murder someone and paid his debt to society but not the people of Manchester? Whatever it is, no one has forgiven him.

Lee cannot stay in Manchester while Patrick finishes high school. He refuses to allow the kid to return to his mother. Patrick’s mother Elise (Gretchen Mol) has been missing from her son’s life for nearly a decade. Flashbacks show exactly how Elise lost custody of Patrick. With Joe’s death, Elise has offered to have Patrick live with her and her new husband (Mathew Broderick). Lee adamantly refuses. An awkward reunion of sorts between mother and son goes awry.

Lee stays in Joe’s house and, working out the details of what to do with Patrick, runs into his ex-wife Randy (Michelle Williams). This is the scene that should give Williams a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Patrick does not want to leave Manchester. He has friends, a band, two girlfriends and is determined to keep his father’s fishing business and the boat, which needs expensive repairs. But Lee’s guilt and pain cannot permit him to stay in Manchester.

Lee’s history is a shock and we then understand how it has affected all the people in his life and the town’s rejection of him.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. This is clearly Affleck’s best role. He has been working in films for a long time and like Dave Franco, he has been overshadowed by a more charismatic, sexy, leading man brother. Finally, patience and a steady career of journeyman roles has paved the way for Affleck to bring this highly complex character to life. Affleck should have one of the nominated slots for Best Actor.

Chandler and Williams are terrific and Hedges is also a stand-out. Lonergan can direct actors and actresses but most importantly, the dialogue sounds real. Lonergan knows these people. He knows how to express loss and guilt. No one says anything that sounds staged or rehearsed. Lonergan’s characters talk like real people. The characters have distinct personalities and are unable to mask their painful back-stories. Lonergan has captured the feel of Manchester and its people. Along with being among the nominees for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, the screenplay should be recognized.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

 

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One Response »

  1. Two things which I have not seen in reviews yet but which are important are:
    1) the location plays an integral part in the movie. When I was a boy my family vacationed at different spots on the New England coast. The town used for Manchester had a totally authentic feel and played a central part in the movie.
    2) The score was completely classical music and incredibly appropriate and effective.
    I went into this without a real feel to Casey Afflick’s acting style. He reminded me of so many working class people that I have known and worked with. There are no affectations in it’s representations of real people. My wife and I became totally immersed in a world we knew. We both came away feeling that this movie was a sort of miracle. It’ so rare to see in a movie. I don’t feel that the various awards given to movies can really show an appreciation for the stories which are shown in the movies – maybe for documentaries – I can’t say. So I have no expectations of whether this movie can find a place in the Hollywood setting. All I can say is it was brilliant. It stayed with me.

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