“Manchester by the Sea” (2016)
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges
Running Time 137 Minutes, Rated R.
4.5 Mitch’s out of 5
People don’t always snap out of grief in a movie like climactic victory. For many, grief is too much to overcome and over time eventually can become a facet of someone. “You Can Count on Me” writer/director brings us his heartbreaking masterpiece with his latest, “Manchester by the Sea”.
Long have I been a Casey Affleck fan. Intensely brooding to the point of sexy, but coming off unforced and unwanted the younger Affleck is one hell of an actor. Truly, one of my favorite performances is Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Cowardly Robert Ford” (also, one of my favorite film titles). His portrayal of Robert Ford as a sniveling young man with a childish hurt ego was truly mesmerizing. Affleck has done one better as Lee Chandler in “Manchester by the Sea”. Affleck takes on Lee’s grief in a non-showy way that has you aching with his ache. This is a simple straight forward story that Lonergan’s brilliantly unfolding script and Affleck’s sadness helps to traverse an incredibly deep and profound story.
When we first meet Lee, we see him pass the time by working four Boston apartments as a handyman janitor. One word answers and little to no eye contact, socially distant is an understatement for Lee. His nights are spent at the bar where a female’s flirting is lost on him and he drinks himself into unearned physical altercations. Sidenote; I guess in New England you can get into bar fight whenever you want and not go to jail (good to know for me). Standoffish and obviously broken, we haven’t yet learned of the tragedy, but Affleck’s posture lets us know it’s there.
Then one day Lee gets a call that his brother is in the hospital again, and by the time it takes Lee to drive an hour and a half down to Manchester his brother (played by Kyle Chandler) has passed. As a sick joke to Lee, his brother leaves his 16 year old son Patrick (excellent newcomer Lucas Hedges) in Lee’s guardianship. This scene and many more are captured in Lonegan’s dark humor filled script and pitch perfect direction.
Eventually we learn of Lee’s Manchester past, one that was shared with a wife played by the exquisite Michelle Williams who not only nails her mouthy down to earth broad type role but also nails an impeccable New England accent. Then we learn of the tragedy, and even though we know it’s coming sooner or later it’s still a drunk irish punch to the gut. A scene later between Affleck and Williams addressing said tragedy is the most wrenching scene of the year.