The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Review: Manchester By The Sea (UK Cert 15)

Terse and troubled Boston janitor Lee Chandler's life is thrown into freefall upon the death of his brother Joe. Travelling back to his hometown of Manchester By The Sea to break the news to his sixteen year old nephew Patrick, Lee is shocked to find out that Joe has named him Patrick's legal guardian. To take this up would mean Lee having to return permanently to a town full of ghosts.

This is director Kenneth Lonergan's third feature film, after You Can Count On Me (2000) and Margaret (2011), for which he also wrote the screenplay. At the Golden Globes, Jimmy Fallon described the film in his opening monologue as 'the only thing more depressing than 2016'. And whilst the film is an emotional slog- dealing as it does with grief, loss, and the pain of the past- it's also surprisingly funny in places. There are a couple of moments of levity to lighten the darkness.

Casey Affleck is Oscar-bound for his performance as Lee. It's a taut and muscular performance, very naturalistic. At no point does it ever tip into 'I am acting' territory (the same can be said for all the cast, actually). Lee is a man adrift in the world after a terrible tragedy and thrown into a situation he doesn't know how to deal with. Affleck can say so much with a look; you can almost see the thought processes happen behind his eyes.  He has never been better on film and deserves the awards hype and critical praise he's getting.

So too do Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges who play Lee's ex-wife Randi and Lee's nephew Patrick. Williams doesn't get a lot of screen-time but is devastatingly effective as a tough woman, later haunted by the past. Hedges is endearingly gauche and geeky as Patrick, although there's much more to the character than that- he gets a few moments of real emotion which are difficult to watch. The rest of the cast are uniformly strong, with particular standout performances by C.J. Wilson as Joe's friend George and Kyle Chandler as Joe (seen primarily in flashback). My only complaint in terms of the casting is having Matthew Broderick pop up towards the end- the scene he's in is very short but it feels like it belongs in a different film.

The script is pretty tight, jumping back and forth in time, so you need to keep your wits about you. It's a weighty, sombre piece, by no means popcorn fodder, but it boasts some of the best performances I've seen on screen for some time. One for drama aficionados.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Manchester By The Sea is on general release from 13th January 2017

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