Manchester by the Sea reviews

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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby Bog » Wed Feb 22, 2017 10:50 pm

Viewing this film again it lacks none of its power or emotional resonance. I would probably say it was at least as powerful...while Hedges and (more specifically) Affleck is just a revelation. Sadly (because he will likely be empty-handed next Monday morning), I would also agree with some there is another element of this film in a class by itself- Lonergan's writing. I am enamored with the seamless storytelling, using present day plus flashback to portray grief and simultaneously expand upon the portrayal. In my opinion this man is a filmmaking stud with nary a miss...despite a small sample size.

This is the best American film I've seen in years...probably any film since The Great Beauty. This is probably the best performance I've seen in years as well. Uri invoked his "BFF" when rating Affleck's acting prowess...and while I'm not so sure they still have that status after he divorced Joaquin's made me think of the last time I felt so sure of a male performance as the best which may have been Phoenix in Two Lovers...but possibly only that performance in between Affleck's 2 statue worthy performances this past 10 years.

I have no filter for my positive hyperbole for this film, as so many aspects are my personal catnip. Film-wise I am an enormous sucker for low plot, slice of life type writing. When Tee decries "I wish it were more about something", said movie is probably right in my lane. I understand the argument we go to the movies to escape blah blah...I get plenty of that in most other films. I'm far more impressed by efforts like this...with description hard to nail down and human dialogue and interaction logical, authentic, frustrating filmic terms. Every word of the screenplay rings true to me and plays out exactly how I feel actual life does and not from a screenwriting class 101 meant to engage viewers. This feels like the seasoned mature adult screenplay antithesis of Chazelle's Whiplash effort. I don't know if I could have had the film end any other way than just another moment between these 2 men dealing with their issues, in this case choosing to parlay the big questions to another day, toss a ball, and go fishing.

This is such a clear AT LEAST picture, screenplay, actor Oscar winner in my opinion, it sure is disappointing at this stage in the game to know there is almost a better chance it goes home empty-handed rather than winning multiple Oscars.

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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Dec 23, 2016 12:40 am

I made a throwaway reference to this film in the Jackie thread that may have led some to believe I didn't care for it, and I want to clarify that that's definitely not the case. I think this is easily one of the year's best: an extremely well-written drama-with-comedy; one of the most powerful pieces of work I've seen this year. And centered on the clear best performance by an actor.

The film is of course not as sprawling as Margaret, and I hope Lonergan will someday go back to taking as big a bite as he did in that earlier film. But within this more contained setting, he's made a very fine film. It's clear from early on that something traumatic happened to Affleck in his past, but the film doesn't reveal it too quickly or milk it too long -- it seems to get disclosed at just the right spot. And the way Lonergan reveals it is rather gutsy/contrary to screenwriting dogma. I'm sure many people along the way told him "Show, don't tell"; wanted to see the embers from the fireplace do their work before he left the house. And normally I'd be among them, but here -- for reasons I couldn't rationally explain -- I think it works better as is: Affleck stumbling to the store, a seemingly mundane sequence, that culminates in pure horror. I've heard some people complain about the police station scene, chiefly the emphatic use of music there, but I thought the scene was incredibly potent. I'd say Affleck nailed down the Oscar in that befuddled, near-deadpan scene -- though he accumulated multiple additional credits as the film went on.

I think the characterization of Patrick has been somewhat under-appreciated by critics. This is a truly fresh character, especially for a film like this. 99% of screenwriters would have made the kid an emotional wreck; a misfit who needed his equally damaged uncle around just to survive. But Hedges gives us instead a popular kid; a jock -- the sort who in most films these days is presented as arch-villain. There are asshole aspects to the kid, but the sort that any 16 year old is liable to (It's nice that Affleck enables him to finally score with his new girlfriend, but prior to that stops him from stringing along the previous girl). And that's the only reason he needs someone to take over as parent-in-absentia -- not because Patrick is especially needy, but because ANY 16 year old is still in need of some life guidance.

(SPOILER) It's perhaps the film's most striking divergence from formula that Lee doesn't overcome his issues and come through for Patrick. Again, 99% of films would have ended with a tearful embrace. I think it's great that Lonergan chose to go another way, and that it wasn't the subject of a knockdown/drag-out scene -- Lee's "I can't beat it" does all the work. However: even in admiring it, I can't pretend I don't wish Lonergan had found some other strong scene on which to finish. To use a favorite phrase of my wife's, the film ends in a pillow. It left me feeling just the tiniest bit let down. Not nearly enough to diminish the rest of the film, but enough to feel it wasn't perfect.

Lonergan is clearly a writer first and foremost, and no one would mistake him for a visual stylist. But I think the film has some strong pictorial work -- the scene at the hockey rink when Lee delivers the news to Patrick seems particularly well shot. And tiny details pay off -- as when we see Michelle Williams, and realize immediately, from her stylish haircut, that she's moved on in a way Lee hasn't been able to.

So, a fine film. And it's heartening, given that it's centered on a death and grieving, that it seems like it'll do solid business.

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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby danfrank » Mon Nov 28, 2016 2:01 am

I can't remember the last time I saw a film as sad as this one. Yeah, there are a bunch of laughs in it, but underneath it's the story of a man who's so broken that it's completely painful to watch him move through the world. I kept waiting for some Hollywood moment of redemption and relief, and it's to Lonergan's credit that it never came. It's rare to see a film that understands trauma like this one, and is so compassionate. Affleck gives a performance for the ages, and is now confirmed as one of our great actors. This one will haunt me for a long time.

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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby Sabin » Tue Nov 22, 2016 7:29 pm

I laughed a lot during Manchester by the Sea. Pretty consistently. Some of the laughs come very expert timing and writing, some come from its filmmaking. A phone going off at an inopportune time brought the house down in my theater. Kenneth Lonergan is great with actors and is making strides as a visual filmmaker. I still think he has a little ways to go (which I'll come back to) but this is a pretty major leap forward. You Can Count on Me felt like a filmed play whereas Margaret was a sprawling, out of control, wild thing. Manchester by the Sea is his most controlled for sure.

Kenneth Lonergan makes a choice with music that I couldn't have detested more in parts. A straining opera that underlines, bolds, and italicizes tragedy. In some moments, I found this approach inspired, such as in a funeral. But during Casey Affleck's deposition, the music broke the intimacy of what should have been a heartbreaking moment. And a few scenes featured an editing (and by that definition directing) scheme that felt choppy. But in Manchester by the Sea, they don't really matter that much. It's such a strong piece of writing that understands human behavior. It's a film about an Irish Catholic Uncle and Nephew who are beset by tragedy (the loss of brother/father) in possibly the most respectively stubborn chapters of their lives. Kenneth Lonergan stays true to their limitations so the comedy he finds in their inability to connect is pretty great. Once Casey Affleck's Lee learns that he is Patrick's guardian, their first conversation involves what to do with a boat and it devolves into one of many arguments. It's just an immediate impasse.

What sets this film apart from others of its kind is that Kenneth Lonergan understands the necessity of viscerally experiencing context. Without going into too much detail, in retrospect the payoff of the boat is pretty obvious. But in the moment, it feels authentic, earned, and satisfying. It's also hard to pin him down because as a theatrical writer, he occasionally spins off into fun tangents. For example, there's a very funny through-line where Patrick is dating two girls at the same time, one of whom has a Mother who is always in the house so sex is pretty much impossible. The Mother then gets a crush on Lee, and it moves into a very funny, unexpected direction. But Lonergan earned my trust early on and the highest compliment I can give him is that I never wanted the movie to end. Not sure it's the masterpiece some are making it out to because it feels like a majorly-executed minor film, but I could've kept watching for another hour easily

Also, I can't entirely trust my opinions on Manchester by the Sea because fuck this trailer. It details a key scene that should come out from nowhere like a wrecking ball. The scene in question features Michelle Williams and there wasn't a dry eye in the room. It's just so incredibly sad and also unexpected. So a slight bit of impact from this film was lost.
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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Nov 17, 2016 1:55 pm

Reza wrote:
The Original BJ wrote:Michelle Williams doesn't have a huge part, but her eleventh-hour scene with Affleck is the movie's most heartbreaking moment, a scene where she clearly becomes a better person than she has been, and must struggle with the fact that the damage to her relationship with Affleck is already done.

I've read a number of places where she is being touted for a supporting Oscar for this performance. Is her appearance akin to a "Beatrice Straight" moment?

I would be surprised if Williams weren't nominated. But based on response from that SAG screening, I would be surprised if anyone even came close to stopping the narrative that it's Viola Davis's time to win.

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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby Reza » Thu Nov 17, 2016 12:28 am

The Original BJ wrote:Michelle Williams doesn't have a huge part, but her eleventh-hour scene with Affleck is the movie's most heartbreaking moment, a scene where she clearly becomes a better person than she has been, and must struggle with the fact that the damage to her relationship with Affleck is already done.

I've read a number of places where she is being touted for a supporting Oscar for this performance. Is her appearance akin to a "Beatrice Straight" moment?

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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Nov 16, 2016 9:08 pm

What struck me most about Manchester by the Sea is simply how much humor it manages to find in its material, especially given that its central subject matter is the grieving process. This is not to say that the movie isn't a deeply heartfelt film about some very sad things. But Kenneth Lonergan's approach seems built on the idea that your life doesn't end just because the life of someone you love does, and part of dealing with grief is simply recognizing that life just keeps going on.

The movie is quite effective about how it sets up its central premise -- the first time we see Casey Affleck's brother (played by Kyle Chandler in flashbacks), he's dead on a table in the hospital. We soon learn, through those flashbacks, that Chandler's death was a long time coming, and though the movie isn't explicit about this, you really get the sense that most of the remaining family members have already worked through certain aspects of their grief already. As a result, much of the narrative's main thread focuses on the mundane day-to-day tasks of dealing with death and the ripple effects it has -- where (and when) to bury the body, what to do with his stuff, how to deal with estranged family members who are now back in your life, and, most specifically to this story, what to do with the teenager left behind who is now your legal responsibility. The movie doesn't shy away from the notion that grief can continue to burst forth in often unexpected moments well after the initial sadness has worn off, but it acknowledges the very human reality that people still have to keep muddling along with their lives, and part of the way we handle pain is to recognize that there are still plenty of times when it's okay to laugh.

Lonergan's script uses flashbacks with a rhythm I'm not sure I've seen in a film before. The movie glides back and forth very casually between past and present, suggesting that events of the past are practically one with the timeline of the present, as I imagine they would feel for Affleck's character, as he returns to Manchester after years away, wishing he could forget the pain that drove him away the first time. The film plays flashbacks in the middle of present-day scenes, and also divvies up moments in the same flashback sequence across the film, to further exemplify this idea that time is just blending together. And Lonergan does this with an offhand quality that makes the impact of significant moments land with startling effect -- there's one shocking scene that the audience is just eased into, and I found the cumulative effect overwhelming.

Performances are splendid, across the board. Casey Affleck, who really broke through a decade ago with his double-punch of Jesse James and Gone Baby Gone, finally gets another role to match those triumphs. His character is clearly the kind of guy who uses an outer toughness to mask deep pain, and Affleck internalizes this in extremely moving ways -- his scene at the police station, where he's clearly trying not to break down, is a fantastic piece of acting. I also like that Affleck (and the script) aren't afraid to make him a jackass at times -- just because he's suffered doesn't mean he can't sometimes still treat people like crap. (In fact, it makes more sense that, given his circumstances, he WOULD.) Lucas Hedges gives one of the most impressive breakthrough performances of the year, providing a great scene partner for Affleck. I like the way that, even when dealing with feelings of great sadness, he still maintains the energy of an awkward, horny teenager just wanting to hang with his friends and get laid. Michelle Williams doesn't have a huge part, but her eleventh-hour scene with Affleck is the movie's most heartbreaking moment, a scene where she clearly becomes a better person than she has been, and must struggle with the fact that the damage to her relationship with Affleck is already done.

I do wonder if the ending of the movie is a little bit soft -- it feels like a small turn for Affleck's character, and not an unexpected one. But it also does feel right for this character -- he seems like the kind of guy who is only going to be willing to budge a little bit, and I think the movie views his action as a mature one, after so many obvious scenes of stubbornness throughout the film.

Lonergan is now 3-for-3 with these beautifully written, humane character dramas that have marked his work as a filmmaker so far.

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Re: Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby dws1982 » Sun Jan 24, 2016 3:28 pm

Amazon has won the bidding war, for a reported $10 million.

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Manchester by the Sea reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jan 24, 2016 1:44 pm

Continuing the tradition (Precious, Boyhood, Brooklyn) of a Sundance debut bursting through while we're still on the previous year's Oscars -- this seems to have seriously wowed alot of people.

Justin Chang
Chief Film Critic @JustinCChang

The persistence of grief and the hope of redemption are themes as timeless as dramaturgy itself, but rarely do they summon forth the kind of extraordinary swirl of love, anger, tenderness and brittle humor that is “Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan’s beautifully textured, richly enveloping drama about how a death in the family forces a small-town New Englander to confront a past tragedy anew. That rather diagrammatic description does little justice to Lonergan’s ever-incisive ear for the rhythms of human conversation, as he orchestrates an unruly suite of alternately sympathetic and hectoring voices — all of which stand in furious contrast to Casey Affleck’s bone-deep performance as a man whom loss has all but petrified into silence. Giving flesh and blood to the idea that life goes on even when it no longer seems worth living, “Manchester” may be too sprawling a vision for all arthouse tastes, but Lonergan’s many champions are scarcely the only viewers who will be stirred by this superbly grounded and acted third effort.

Premiering at Sundance 16 years after Lonergan made his prize-winning debut there with “You Can Count on Me,” “Manchester by the Sea” is recognizably of a piece with both that film and its troubled, long-gestating follow-up. Finally released in 2011 after years of legal and logistical wrangling, “Margaret” was a magnificent ruin whose defenders and detractors could nonetheless agree that Lonergan remained one of the most distinctive writing talents on the American indie scene. Although far less likely to polarize than its predecessor, the new film offers a similarly bold merging of ensemble drama and character study, all in service of a story about how a person — and crucially, the surrounding community — choose to deal or not deal with the consequences of a fatal mistake. The various and venerable spirits of “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Ordinary People” and “In the Bedroom” may hover over this movie in wintry setting and theme, but “Manchester by the Sea” is very much its own singular, seething creation.

We first encounter Lee Chandler (Affleck) as a hard-working, taciturn Boston janitor/handyman, whose daily routine of unclogging toilets and painting walls offers scant distraction from the throes of some all-consuming private anguish. Whether on the job or at a bar after work, Lee isn’t one for small talk, and he seems more inclined to converse with his fists whenever push comes to shove. Gray skies and falling snow have rarely looked so forlorn; this truly is the winter of Lee’s discontent, and clearly the latest of many. When he receives the news that his beloved older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died of a heart attack, he doesn’t seem to grow any more solemn or inarticulate than he already is, even as he makes the lonely drive up to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the Massachusetts hometown that cruel and as-yet undisclosed circumstances forced him to abandon years earlier.

Those circumstances are gradually shaded in through a steady succession of flashbacks to happier times, and they’re not woven into the main drama so much as dropped in, with stark, discomfiting abruptness. We see Lee enjoying idyllic afternoons with Joe and his son, Patrick (Ben O’Brien), sailing their rickety old boat in the Manchester harbor; Joe receiving the diagnosis of congestive heart failure that presumably drove his wife, Elise (Gretchen Mol), to hit the bottle and ultimately end their marriage; Lee playing the role of fun-loving family man to his loving but exasperated wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and their three young children; and, in a harrowingly sad sequence, the pointless, unspeakable tragedy that drove Lee to his current life of remote solitude.

The use of flashbacks to connect emotional fragments and convey narrative detail can too easily become a screenwriter’s crutch, and it will take time for attentive audiences to adjust to the herky-jerky rhythms of “Manchester by the Sea”; this is not a film overtly concerned with easing you into its world of sorrow. But gradually enough, the pieces start to snap ever more absorbingly into place, and the blunt matter-of-factness with which Lonergan pivots between past and present comes to make a deeper thematic sense. For those, like Lee, who have endured the very worst, neither the present nor the future can offer any relief from the past, and a sudden near-accident or a poorly chosen word can bring the most painful memories rushing back to the surface.

An American filmmaker unusually attuned to the messiness and clumsiness of most everyday interaction, Lonergan steers Lee and his few remaining friends and family members through the forced, awkward rites of bereavement. But Lee is completely unprepared for the bombshell that, per Joe’s wishes, he is the legal guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges) — now a popular, sometimes temperamental and perpetually horny teenager for whom the full realization of his father’s passing clearly has yet to fully register. Presently, the lad remains mostly concerned with being a hockey star, playing in his rock band, trying to get into the pants of two different girlfriends, and making sure that his Uncle Lee doesn’t mess things up for him too badly.

Just as “Manchester by the Sea” avoids the pitfalls of that most overworked of dramatic templates, the death-of-a-child meller, so it mercifully avoids devolving into one of those tidy, odd-couple therapy exercises where two mismatched souls each become the healing that the other needs. Instead the movie is focused, honestly and entirely, on how Lee and his fellow survivors cope with the here and now, all of them stumbling forward one day at a time and realizing the world doesn’t slow down for their benefit. Most of them probably know it already: These are people with hard minds and thick skins, and nearly all of them speak in the foul-mouthed, salty-surly idiom that is as much a fixture of their milieu as the biting cold and the briny sea air (conveyed with an almost palpable texture and forlorn grace by the brilliant d.p. Jody Lee Lipes).

Lonergan arranges all these raucous voices into a chorus of overlapping lines and halting cadences, and on more than one occasion you may find yourself wishing some of them would shut up already. That extends even to the music, courtesy of composer Lesley Barber and music supervisor Linda Cohen, which adds yet another deliberate layer of cacophony: There are moments when a classical piece or an old blues standard rise to a pitch well beyond that of mere background accompaniment. Only a wordless, beautifully harmonized vocal performance, recurring at key intervals, offers the respite of something resembling silence.

Most of the likely criticisms of Lonergan’s film will likely center on its wild swings from mournful, minor-key drama to tart, tetchy comedy, which would make sense if the events being depicted naturally lent themselves to exacting tonal discipline. But the inelegance of the storytelling here is of the sort that testifies not to a filmmaker’s sloppiness, but rather to the messiness of real life. “Manchester by the Sea” may not be as formally and structurally daring as “Margaret,” but in its steady, forceful accumulation of perspectives, it emerges a movie of similarly symphonic ambitions and fierce, uncompromising performances.

Doing his best and most sustained acting since “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” Affleck finds the eloquence in his character’s ineloquence; our brief glimpses of his more playful, carefree self throw the enormity of his trauma into stark relief. Yet the performance never feels lifeless or anesthetized; even Affleck’s mumbling evasions are charged with feeling. By the end, we have a clear understanding of Lee Chandler as a good man bravely re-engaging with his former life the only way he knows how, and being honest enough to acknowledge that it may be too much too soon.

Affleck has a terrific foil in the 19-year-old Hedges (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “Kill the Messenger”), playing Patrick as a ball of rowdy, tempestuous adolescent energy who nonetheless submits with surprising ease to his uncle’s instruction, as though recognizing his need for an authority figure in his father’s absence. Chandler is wonderful as Lee’s sturdy, salt-of-the-earth brother; that we always want to see more of him on screen renders his absence all the more haunting. And it wouldn’t be a Lonergan movie if he and his regular collaborator Matthew Broderick didn’t show up, making appearances of an almost comically tossed-off brevity.

While “Manchester by the Sea” is very much about uncles, nephews, fathers and sons, Lonergan, always a superb director of actresses, gives the women in his ensemble their due. It’s been a while since Williams had a role this good, but she’s lost none of her unerring knack for emotional truth in the meantime, and she has one astonishing scene that rises from the movie like a small aria of heartbreak. And as Patrick’s mother, Mol has one short but powerful late scene in which she tries to reconnect with the son she barely knows, and her words seem to distill the energy and emotion of this remarkable movie into one line: “You don’t have to be so formal.” As Lonergan knows, it’s often hard enough just to be human.

Hollywood Reporter
by Todd McCarthy

Kenneth Lonergan's latest, starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, is a wrenching drama about a grief-stricken New England family.

Kenneth Lonergan’s third feature film since his debut 16 years ago with his Sundance entry You Can Count On Me is deeply rooted in its New England setting and characters, led by the traumatized working class Joe played by Casey Affleck in what is by far his most impressive and deeply felt screen performance.

The over-extended second half shouldn’t be too difficult to trim down to bring the film closer to a two-hour running time, which would make this a good bet for a class distributor looking for a full-bodied autumn release.

Although Manchester never feels stagy and is deeply enriched by the mostly coastal communities in which it’s set, this is clearly the work of a writer who knows his way around creating characters and emotional dynamics in a manner more evident in works for the stage than for screens big or small.

Instead of using shorthand, Lonergan layers and then layers some more, allows his characters to stew, not always disclose themselves and then come to decisions and changes naturally, or after due deliberation. And they can relapse and not always be ready for the breakthrough moment toward which the story seems to be pointing. The result is something that feels more akin to a full meal than the usual cinematic popcorn.

At the outset, the leading character could not be less prepossessing. Lee Chandler (Affleck) works as a handyman in some Boston apartment buildings, cleaning toilets, shoveling snow, behaving rudely. One night, he provokes a fight in a bar. He seems like an ass, a no-account. Some brief ocean fishing flashbacks show him as close to his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and the latter’s young son Patrick, but that’s long ago.

Abruptly, Joe dies, of congestive heart failure, which not only results in the woefully ill-suited Lee suddenly becoming guardian for the now-16-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), but also exposes the numerous rifts in the family; there are a lot of burned bridges here, and Lee is in no way equipped or emotionally disposed to try to repair them.

Still, there are legal responsibilities to be faced and rituals to be performed, forcing some contact most of the family would prefer to avoid. As word gets around, there are whispers about “the Lee Chandler,” suggesting a notoriety about him in these parts, and Lonergan neatly shuffles the dramaturgical deck to introduce information that will later come to the fore.

Among the seeds planted are Lee’s past marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams), now entirely out of the picture, along with their two daughters, similarly missing, and Patrick’s mother Elise (Gretchen Mol), whose absence, in the light of the boy’s father’s death, throws responsibility for him to Lee. For fully an hour, Lonergan makes these seemingly mundane characters and situations intriguing and interesting; one is assured that we’re just seeing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that will eventually be filled in. Sure enough, the big event, the tragedy that changed all the characters’ lives forever, is revealed at the one-hour point. It’s a devastating occurrence, to be sure, but one with nuances of responsibility and shades of gray in terms of the potential ramifications for those who will have to deal with it for the rest of their lives.

How the characters cope and relate after this is emotionally and psychologically fraught and often powerful, but the focus narrows down to Lee’s relationship with the teenaged Patrick. The latter confounds his uncle by his constant screwing around with local girls, while Lee continues to wrestle with his responsibilities toward the kid and, briefly, Randi’s renewed emotionalism.

Everything Lonergan serves up is arguably germane, but the pace noticeably slackens in the second half; some of the uncle/nephew scenes feel repetitive and the dramatic destination begins to feel like it’s just being pushed further and further down the track. The feeling here is that removing somewhere around ten minutes from this section would be all to the good.

From certain angles now resembling a scruffy version of the late Patrick McGoohan, Affleck goes deeper here than ever before, his odd posturing, hesitations and sometimes scratchy speech now all seeming like a meaningful outgrowth and expression of his complex character, no longer sometimes affectations. Young Hedges, perhaps best known for his appearances in two Wes Anderson films, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, has a lot more to work with here and thoroughly impresses.

Williams shares an extremely emotional late scene with Affleck that’s written in a very daring way, with their characters pushing adamantly in completely opposite directions and using different styles of expression; it almost comes off, but not quite. In a different way, a stilted luncheon reunion between Patrick and his mother (Gretchen Mol) and his previously unmet new stepfather (Matthew Broderick), feels rather archly artificial and unconvincing.

Producer Matt Damon was set to play the leading role early on but other commitments intervened, giving the part to Affleck. From a box-office point of view, this makes a big difference, but the dramatic results prove more than sound.

Screen Daily
by Fionnuala Halligan, Chief Film Critic

Dir/scr. Kenneth Lonergan. US, 2015, 137 mins

Manchester By The Sea is a meticulous, rich film: there’s such a depth to this story of a man living with unbearable grief, a sense of time and place and the changing of the seasons, you feel you could almost touch it. Kenneth Lonergan’s deeply moving return after the travails of Margaret shows what a rare storyteller he is, measuring out his narrative beats in a world which crackles with life, guiding Casey Affleck’s magnificent performance, instantly recognisable as a career-best.

Parallels will be drawn to Ordinary People, and it’s a nice passing of the guard that Manchester By The Sea premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, established by the director of that Oscar-winning film. And clearly Manchester is a prestige picture which could be an awards contender in the same way, given nuanced marketing and keen avoidance of hype. Whatever its commercial fate, and it’s a sad reality that grosses for a slow-burning, 137-minute film could end up being slight, Manchester By The Sea is already an artistic success, with its combination of mesmerising, sprawling drama and authentic characters and dialogue.

While Affleck is front-and-centre as the brutally-damaged Boston janitor Lee, this is also an ensemble piece as the characters gradually reveal themselves in a delicate, carefully measured narrative. Its story is best told by the film-maker, with the real revelation only coming around the one-hour mark. From the get-go, however, we can see that Lee is isolated and angry, possessed of a trigger temper which seems always on the brink of explosion. When he’s notified of his brother’s death, there’s a such huge bank of pent-up grief to the man it manifests itself in his very gait; we know there’s more to the story, and Lonergan shows his cards in gradually-mounting flashbacks.

These are discreet cuts to the past, not shoved into the frame by dramatic changes in colour palette or music. One moment the viewer is in the present, the next, mired in history, much like the film’s protagonists. Manchester’s very opening shots establish a fishing trawler, with Lee, his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), and his young nephew on board, but now the boy has grown up to become 16-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges, also impressive). As Lee reluctantly stays on in the town of Manchester By The Sea and the close-knit community he has abandoned to arrange Joe’s funeral, more facts slowly emerge. He was once married to Randi (Michelle Williams). Joe’s ex-wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) was an alcoholic. Lee and Patrick are alone. People talk about him.

This is a film about life and pain in which there are no pat answers. As the resolutely working-class characters struggle through their circumstances – young Patrick only wants to carry on as before, while Lee needs to escape – there’s a sense they’re simply doing their best. Lonergan the scriptwriter has a real ear for dialogue and rhythm, and it’s easy to enter their world. He shrugs off obvious resolutions in favour of messy, hurtful, reality.

Design and cinematography are excellent. Boston’s harsh winters and the beauty of this fishing inlet are married together in visuals which snap with the frost and chill. The score can tend towards the operatically overwrought, a slightly jarring note (Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor is enough to contend with in a pivotal scene without doses of Handel and Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, although the film-maker indicated post-Sundance screening that these choices might yet change). Yet sound design, particularly in a breakfast scene where Lee is telephoning the funeral parlour, bristles.

Casey Affleck’s performance is haunting, a face of grief and anger the viewer will never forget, but, as Patrick, Lucas Hedges also strikes the right notes of a teenager trying to hold on to what little he has left, whether that be his band practice, hockey game, two girlfriends, or the uncle who is clearly struggling to cope with him. (A sequence, featuring Lonergan regular Matthew Broderick, where there’s an attempted reconciliation with Patrick’s mother doesn’t quite come off, but it’s a rare dramatic mis-step.) Michelle Williams has a devastating scene with Affleck towards the end of this film, a reminder of how great she can be with the right project and screen partner.

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