Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea is well-crafted, superbly acted film for grown-ups.
Beat Itby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Manchester by the Sea is an actors’ film, a searing study of grief and family dysfunction. Casey Affleck (who won a Golden Globes Best Actor award for his gripping performance) is Lee. Now reclusively working as a live-in janitor in the big city of Boston, he’s a man who is morose and prone to sudden violence, and clearly haunted by something in his past. It turns out that’s the tragedy he caused by a single mistake that he made and which caused him to leave his small-town New England fishing community of Manchester, where he ran a boat-hire business with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), who is now separated from his alcoholic wife.
When Joe dies suddenly, Lee is appointed guardian of his 16-year-old babe-magnet son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and in order to fulfil his responsibility has to return and confront the past. Continuing flashbacks that interlock with the continuing action eventually bring us closer to the awful event and to understanding why it has had the effect it had on Lee, his family and the whole town. We see the happy, fun-loving family man he used to be, in contrast to the shell he is now, and how Michelle Williams is broken as Lee’s ex-wife, still living in the town. Lee’s only support seems to be the family friend George (CJ Wilson), who worked with him and his brother on the boat, the Claudia Marie, which was Lee and Joe’s mother’s name.
Lee and Patrick are forced together by Joe’s death and the relationship imposed by his will, both trying to deal with their grief in their own way. Gradually despite their opposing views of how their lives should be from now on, their uneasy, jokey relationship deepens, expressed symbolically by director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, You Can Count On Me).
This slice of life may be grim but is it also leavened by occasional humour that breaks through like the promise of sunshine. There’s some kind of resolution for both Lee and Patrick – in deciding whether to repair the boat, bouncing a ball – but ultimately, as in real life, there may be no cop-out easy answer.
Manchester by the Sea is a stunningly well acted, searingly honest, complex film. Compulsory viewing.
Manchester by the Sea had its European premiere at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is released on 13 January 2017 in the UK. It has six BAFTA nominations including for Best Film, Leading Actor, Supporting Actress and Director. It won the Oscar for Best Actor for Casey Affleck and Best Original Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan at the Academy Awards in February 2017.