Manchester By The Sea – Review

Have you met future Oscar winner Casey Affleck? My boy’s wicked-smaht.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Release Date: 18th November, 2016 (US)
Studio: Amazon/Roadside Attractions

“I’m just a back-up…”

It’s been nine years since The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford hit theatres. Nine years since Casey Affleck first flirted with Oscar glory – and he hasn’t managed to top that career-best performance since. Until now, that is. In Manchester By The Sea, the younger Affleck takes centre stage as Lee Chandler, a cold & lonely handyman who returns to his hometown in the wake of his older brother Joe’s sudden passing. While there, he’s forced to confront more than his fair share of personal demons.

Lee’s not a likeable man. He’s closed-off, disagreeable, and often struggles to keep his temper in check. His only saving grace is his biting, sarcastic wit. And yet, as with Robert Ford, Affleck still manages to find the humanity in him, winning the audience over a little more with every conversation he begrudgingly takes part in. It’s a genuine tour-de-force turn, full of anger, comedy, bitterness & heartbreak. He’s so good, he’ll leave you on the verge of tears just moments after making you laugh until you’re sides hurt.

The story sees Affleck delicately dance between a state of grief and bemusement over the surreal weeks that follow Lee’s brothers death. Kenneth Lonergan’s script is remarkably funny, and there were more than a handful of scenes that left our entire theatre shaking with laughter. The levity Lonergan adds makes for a far more entertaining viewing experience overall. Films about death can often almost be as hard for an audience to get through as it is for the characters onscreen. That isn’t the case here.

“Where we goin’, the orphanage?”  |  “Shut up.”

While this is undoubtedly Affleck’s film, there are a few stellar supporting turns. Michelle Williams is as warm & likeable as ever as Lee’s conflicted ex-wife. Kyle Chandler delivers some sterling work in a few flashback scenes as the dearly departed Joe. Finally, Lucas Hedges is fantastic as Joe’s confused & angry son, Patrick – who is almost the antithesis of his uncle. Together, he & Affleck boast a dynamic chemistry that, under different circumstances, might have made for a wonderful buddy cop movie.

I must admit, I’d never seen a Lonergan-helmed film before going into this screening. Like with Affleck, his admirers always appear to be enamoured with his work, but you’d be hard-pressed to find even a regular moviegoer who’s watched either of his previous two directorial efforts. Their mutual anonymity serves both filmmaker & star extremely well here, as neither attempt to jazz up or accentuate the material with typically ‘Hollywood’ theatrics. The film revels in its quiet, understated nature, nestling its moments of heartbreak and humour within the little quirks of small town life.

4-5-stars

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