“Manchester by the Sea” (2017)
Running Time: 137 minutes
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
Featuring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, and Lucas Hedges
Randi Chandler: “I said a lot of terrible things to you. My heart was broken, and I know yours is broken, too.”
The third film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (after “You can count on me” (2000) and “Margaret (2011)) finally arrives in New Zealand after making the festival rounds as we as a successful wide release in the US, it is well worth the wait. “Manchester by the Sea” (2017) has been nominated or won numerous awards over the past few months so has been a success in anyone’s books, this reviewer is not going against the grain. It is a wholly original work both in front and behind the camera – this is a film that tops off 2016 as a year that has ended up being pretty good, film wise anyway.
The film sees Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a quiet and reserved janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, who has his share of stress. One morning he receives a message from George (C.J. Wilson) , a family friend, that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has had a heart attack. Joe dies before Lee can reach the hospital.
Lee goes to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to break the news to Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Staying in Joe’s home while arranging Joe’s funeral and looking after Patrick temporarily, he is shocked to learn that Joe named him as Patrick’s guardian. To accept this role, Lee would be required to move permanently to Manchester, but he is tortured by memories of the death of his children in a fire he inadvertently caused, his subsequent suicide attempt, and his eventual divorce from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams)
The big themes in “Manchester by the Sea” (2017) are loss and the redemptive power of love, and living your life for someone else – accepting responsibility when you don’t really want it. Casey Affleck brings these thoughts and emotions to the screen with a commitment not often seen on the screen, and not for the amount of time he must have spent in a very dark place. It is an honor to Lonergan’s script that Affleck is able to deliver a performance that many people can relate to – this is not just a white man’s film but a film that could reflect many cultures in the world today – all you need to have experienced is loss.
Lonergan made his name in writing stage plays and that is how he and Affleck first became aware of each other – Affleck appeared onstage in one of Lonergan’s plays – and why Affleck was considered for this role – they have wanted to work together onscreen for years. This, it turns out was an excellent film for them to team up on, as it offers so much in terms of performance, themes and story.
The film like others of its kind let us in on a family’s personal life, the problems and adversities they face in everyday life as well as once in a life time losses. The movie reveals some whoppers and Lee is at the center of all of them, even his brother’s diagnosis and ultimate death. The plot of the film is fairly simple, but the tragedy is all too cruel and unusual. The narrative on the other hand splits the film in two, as the present moves ahead so to do the flashback scenes, offering us glimpses into Lee’s life before he left Manchester-by-the-sea, it is not a unique storytelling device but the way in which it is used is, coupled with the extremely beautiful way it is shot leaves a lasting impression.
I had heard that the film was described as dark and depressing but I can assure you that whilst the film has its dark patches there is, like life, humour to be had in a naturalistic way.
The standout scene is when Lee is read the will of his brother, the flashback scene that is contained within that segment is one of the most heartbreaking and well-constructed scenes of the year. The aftermath is draining and senseless.
Lonergan uses the geography and some classical music to convey the loneliness, anger and powerless Lee feels when he returns home and while he is there as the realization that he may not leave again.
This is a beautiful film that will not easily leave you once viewed, and it should be seen in the cinema, it is a film that has been made with an artist’s eye and deserves to be seen. For me Casey Affleck’s performance is the star of not only this movie but of the year.