Manchester by the Sea – A Movie Review


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manchesterWe are, all of us, in some ways trying to deal with the past events of our lives, trying to understand them, trying to beat them. Manchester by the Sea gives us a very up close, very personal look at one man for whom the events of his life may well be too much to handle. The film is a brilliantly acted, very well directed and intimate portrayal of Lee Chandler, a man whose life has given him far more tragedy than any one person should have to face. It is a surprisingly delicate movie. It is fragile and brittle and, in that very fragility and brittleness, lies the heart of its genius.

I was prepared for the movie to be an incredibly sad affair, draining to watch and, while there are surely moments of tragedy that deeply affect the characters and are deeply affecting to the audience, I was surprised by the humor that writer/director Kenneth Lonergan found in the story. There are some wonderfully entertaining and funny moments in the movie and they break through the proceedings intentionally, reminding us and, to a certain extent, the characters that life, through all its darkness, also has moments of great light.

When his brother dies, Lee is called home from his Boston life and returns to Manchester – a town that holds for him an almost unbelievable pain. His is shocked to discover that he has been named the guardian of his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (a very good and Academy Award nominated Lucas Hedges). The town is populated with people who remind Lee of the terror he left behind when he departed Manchester and the movie chronicles Lee’s reconnecting with his past.

This is an excellent movie that makes very few missteps. In fact, the only thing I did not enjoy about the movie was the score. Whatever Lonergan and composer Lesley Barber were going for, they missed. Each time the funereal notes began to play (typically as Lee drives about Manchester), I cringed and was completely taken out of the movie. I don’t know why, but the music just did not work for me.

Casey Affleck, in a well-deserved Oscar nominated performance, imbues Lee with a haunted desperation so finely tuned that, at times, Manchester by the Sea feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction. His Lee is an unappealing character – angry, withdrawn and off-handedly cruel – and it takes an actor of Affleck’s ability to carry a movie like this. In the hands of a lesser talent, Lee would be an off-putting jerk about whom no audience would care. In Affleck’s hands, Lee becomes a character to care about and to root for. This is one of the best performances of the year.

Affleck’s chemistry  with Hedges is remarkable and the scenes he shares with Michelle Williams (also Oscar nominated, sensing a theme?) are harrowing and clinics in fine acting. In fact, the cast overall (including Gretchen Mol, the underrated Kyle Chandler and Matthew Broderick) seems as though they just stepped out of the Actors’ Studio.

Manchester by the Sea is a complete movie. It creates an emotional texture that is affecting and it does not let itself off any narrative hooks. It also does not take short cuts. Watching the movie feels as though one is stepping into the most intimate and most significant moments of someone’s life.

When the movie ends, it is difficult to step back out of those moments.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA receives FOUR AND A HALF FECKIN’S out of a possible FIVE. 

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4 responses to “Manchester by the Sea – A Movie Review

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