Eloquence and authenticity might not be what you’d expect from a man who apparently cut his teeth on the irreverent kid’s TV show Doug before moving onto the style and cynicism of Analyze This and Gangs of New York. But Kenneth Lonergan’s melancholy and subtly moving Manchester by the Sea is the work of a man who understands understated family crises and interactions.
The resurgent interest in Casey Affleck’s personal and legal troubles does not seem to have derailed his chances of picking up major silverware across this year’s awards season. If he does find himself in possession of an Academy Award, he will have well and truly earned it. His performance as a socially inept, emotionally stunted reluctant father figure is nuanced and hugely compelling.
Affleck’s Lee Chandler is an inscrutable handyman quietly scratching out an existence just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. His predictable and lonely life is thrown into disarray following his brother’s shock death from a heart attack and the news that he has been made a sole legal guardian of his teenage nephew. Journeying to Manchester-by-the-sea to tie up loose ends and approach the task of reconnecting with his now largely estranged nephew, Lee must face his past along and help tackle his families’’ problems as well as his own.
The heart-breaking nature of the story may alienate a percentage of the audience and, in narrative terms, Manchester by the Sea is, at times, a tough watch. But at its best, it’s a well-considered character study of an absorbing nature with versatile, three-dimensional characters that inhabit their spaces and fill the story with a sense of purpose, vitality and plausibility.
The movie’s feeling of ambiguity and open-endedness seeks not to provide its audience with a sense of closure but invites to watch as characters struggle to find themselves and each other. There’s a welcome dark sense of humour peppered throughout the script to soften the tragedy and help guide audiences through the drama. At times that balance between almost moronic black comedy and bleak tragedy doesn’t feel quite right. On occasion I found myself struggling to compute the shift in tone, particularly following a major character revelation halfway through the drama; but Manchester by the Sea remains beguiling, poignant and filled with a feeling of authenticity and dignity.
[rating=4] | Chris Banks
Drama | USA, 2017 |15 | 13th January 2017 (UK) | Studiocanal |Dir.Kenneth Lonergan | Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler,Lucas Hedges, Kara Hayward, C.J Wilson