Quiet intelligence, heartache and heartbreak are at the centre of the finely constructed contemporary drama, Manchester by the Sea. A restrained but compelling performance from Casey Affleck (Triple 9) and magnificent cinematography (the director of photography is Jody Lee Lipes) are its hallmarks.
Manchester by the Sea tells the story of the Chandler family, a working class clan from Massachusetts. After Lee’s (Affleck’s) older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler – The Wolf of Wall Street) suddenly passes away, Lee is made the legal guardian of his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges – Moonrise Kingdom). Lee is ill equipped to handle the task as he has yet to come to terms with a tragic past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn) and the community where he was born and raised. Lee is a character on edge throughout, severely lacking in social skills and small talk. He is upset, angry and isolated. He has shut himself down, but we – the audience – don’t know why. That is only revealed to us as the picture unfolds through a series of vignettes and partial scenes. That is how we piece together the sad and sorry saga.
This is quality, slow moving cinema put together (he wrote the screenplay and directed) by somebody with a great command of his craft, Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me). He has a deep-seated understanding of how to weave a story by drawing us in, holding us tight and adding layers as he progresses.
Affleck is “look at me” wonderful as Lee Chandler. We feel his suffering and pain. We want to help, but can’t. We are also frustrated by some of what he does. As much as Hedges could have been subjugated playing opposite Affleck, he doesn’t allow that to happen and makes his own mark as Patrick, at first respectful, but equally frustrated and, at times, angry. Williams only has a small role, but it is one into which she injects her trademark credibility. One scene towards the end is searing.
Manchester by the Sea is a slow-burn piece of work that leaves an indelible footprint. It is worthy of high praise and accolades for its sensitivity, sensibility and assuredness. Rated MA, it scores an 8½ out of 10.
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams
Release Date: 2 February 2017
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television