Starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Tate Donovan, Kara Hayward, Anna Baryshnikov, Matthew Broderick. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. (2016, 137 min). LIONSGATE
Say what you will about Manchester by the Sea - this isn't going to appeal to everyone - but one thing is certain: Casey Affleck (aka: the more talented brother) absolutely deserves his Oscar nomination. And barring any surprise curveballs the academy likes to throw now & then to keep things interesting, he's probably going to win.
Affleck delivers a nearly flawless performance as Lee Chandler, an alcoholic janitor whose older brother, Joseph (Kyle Chandler), has just passed away. He returns to his hometown of Manchester to oversee funeral arrangements and look after his 16 year old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Though Joseph's death was quite unexpected, Lee is emotionally unprepared for, not only the situation, but returning home to friends & family he's been estranged from for quite some time. Through flashbacks, we slowly learn the reasons he became so withdrawn and why he's now reluctant to assume custodial responsibility of Patrick.
Manchester by the Sea is a low-key, melancholy study of internal conflict and painful regret. How Lee deals with almost-unimaginable emotional pain is perfectly conveyed by Affleck, who does more with an expression than a page of dialogue could manage, making the few moments he does speak at-length all the more meaningful (and sometimes heart-wrenching). The other performances are impressive, as well, Hedges in particular. The scenes between Lee and Patrick feel genuine because of how well these two actors play off each other.
Director Kenneth Lonergan's screenplay is masterfully economical, picking just the right moments for his characters to simply shut up and trusting his actors enough to make those scenes work. The same can be said about the soundtrack; the music is suitably minimal and unassuming, save for key scenes in which classical music is utilized to great effect.
It must also be said that, while there are some brief moments of levity, Manchester by the Sea is a lengthy, somber experience with an open-ended resolution which leaves many questions unanswered. Just like life, I guess, which is probably the whole point. And as the old saying goes, sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Fortunately, Lee's journey is a quietly compelling one due to Affleck's Oscar worthy performance.
- FEATURETTES: "Emotional Lives: Making Manchester by the Sea"; "A Conversation with Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan"
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