MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
When Lee (Casey Affleck), who works as a janitor in Boston, gets the news that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died, he heads to his former home in Manchester by the Sea to deal with matters and see his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Meanwhile, ghosts of the past reappear, including Lee's former wife Randi (Michelle Williams), bringing the tragedies from years gone by into the present again.
Review by Louise Keller:
Life's drama and relationships form the heart of this special and potent film in which a death opens old wounds before becoming the catalyst for change. In his best role to date, Casey Affleck delivers a haunting, internal performance as a man whose anger has rendered him numb - until he is forced to confront his demons. Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, 2000) directs his beautifully structured screenplay with delicacy and restraint as the narrative takes us back and forth into the past as old tragedies become new again.
There is great depth to the film and the characters with which we invest our time. After an establishment opening sequence in which there is laughter and happy interaction onboard a rundown boat on Manchester harbor, we meet Lee Chandler (Affleck), literally buried in work in wintry Boston - shoveling snow, fixing blocked toilets and any other handyman job that is required in his job as janitor. The gloomy chill of Lee's life is palpable. He is indifferent, rude and unfriendly to the tenants and easily gets provoked into fights at the local bar. He is an angry man struggling to make sense of his life. When told of the death of his revered, older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee is almost in a daze as he returns to his Massachusetts hometown and sees death in close up before addressing what needs to be addressed and finding ever more with which to deal.
In seamlessly integrated flashbacks, Lonergan paints us a cumulative picture of Lee, whose life has been punctuated by overwhelming tragedies. There are no words required for the dramatic sequence in which we witness the unspeakable. It is an unforgettable moment and one that has a lasting emotional ripple effect.
Michelle Williams is wonderful as Lee's former wife Randi; the scene between Randi and Lee, when they are both struggling (Randi, with the words she needs to say; Lee, to listen to what is being said) is both moving and real. Meanwhile, Lee is struggling to play the new role in which he finds himself. Lucas Hedges embodies the essence of confusion as Lee's nephew Patrick, whose guardianship becomes central to the plot and who is juggling his own sense of self as he tries to score with both his girlfriends.
Like an angry sea, the narrative swells and subsides with the tide of emotions as life steams ahead regardless. There are no contrivances, no manipulations, no false notes. Lonergan's film rings true on every level as the complex relationships and multi-layered intricacies of grief find a compass that points to calmer waters. Prepare to be moved. This is one of the year's best.
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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (MA15+)
CAST: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, C.J. Wilson, Lucas Hedges, Chloe Dixon, Kara Hayward, Anna Baryshnikov
PRODUCER: Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan
SCRIPT: Kenneth Lonergan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jody Lee Lipes
EDITOR: Jennifer Lame
MUSIC: Lesley Barber
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ruth De Jong
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 2, 2017