The BLOG: Culture

Manchester by the Sea movie review


Photo by Diane Kilgore

“Manchester-By-The-Sea” is an “R” rated fire and ice study of agony. The 137 minute drama shrouds viewers in a range of emotion as Casey Affleck masterfully plays Lee Chandler; a frozen shard of a man whose raging pain holds him together and tears him apart. The film takes a stab at exploring distress-signals in a broken heart nicking a main artery in the process. Anguish pours from the actor physically, psychologically, and sociologically. Wearing a paper-thin winter coat with a collar as frayed as his nerves Affleck portrays an isolated man, imprisoned within himself.

In the Amazon Studio production Writer/ Director Kenneth Lonergan accents the jagged edges of loss with scenery and piercing dialogues land-marked north of Boston. Universally approachable music of Handel’s Messiah and Duke Ellington’s I’m beginning to See the Light articulate flowing silences and flaming outbursts that wave throughout this cold-toned seaside story of winter.

Lucas Hedges portrays Pat Chandler, Lee’s nephew, as a foul-mouthed adolescent consumed by circumstances. The angry victim of youthful frustrations and adult abdications, the high-school-er ties the theme of loss between family members artfully, playfully, poignantly. Flashbacks are flash-points to understanding the plot that begins with Pat’s dad, Joe having a heart attack. The aftermath of the cardiac event anchors the story to the seaport community organically explaining the undulating bonds and breaks of pathos.

Women of variable degrees of warmth color this film of greys. Michelle Williams and Gretchen Mol are two of the counterpoints used as shatter-pattern tangents contrasting icy Affleck’s broken-down exterior. Unlike the women, Affleck’s character is unable to break-through to his heartache. His personification of pain ebbs and flows with violence. Throughout the thought provoker Affleck’s performance is used as a repository of derivative distresses.

Of visual significance is a granite wall’s sharp edge in a searing exchange between Lee and his former wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Facing each other as ex’s their weary faces trace a torched history. Their heart-quickening dialogue of futility is a full-bodied loving exchange that will feel uncomfortably familiar to anyone one once passionately fused to a relationship burnt-out by disaster. This pivotal scene is a boast-worthy one for Lonergan’s writing and the stellar performances of both Affleck and Williams.

At the Massachusetts premier of the film in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theater audiences laughed and cried at life’s complexities. Fielding questions after the screening Lonergan explained his belief; these convergent, divergent realities share equal value on the spectrum of human experience. For him and co-producer Matt Damon, successful story telling flows best when acknowledging emotions co-exist. As in life, a happy ending isn’t a presumption, but for Lonergan there’s usually a vein of humor in tragedy. Days after taking-in the film, embers of the Lonergan’s burning vision remain vivid. Manchester-by-the Sea’s cadence and imagery have the ability to evoke that heat-creeping sensation generated by unresolved relationships left smoldering under a glacier of resentments.


Photo by Diane Kilgore

January’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah was the U.S. premier of Manchester-by-the-Sea. There the film earned praise for it’s twisted tempest of sensitivities recognizing Affleck’s raw performance that alternates between kinetic and stilled. Considered by many to be Oscar worthy the study’s message is singed by what wasn’t finished, it concludes with Lee Chandler’s catharsis held painfully at bay. As the ground softens some conflicts are buried but the plot allows Lee to move metaphorically thirty minutes south of Manchester to Charlestown another coastal town known for it’s jagged edges and hard-scrapple life.

There is no wiff of a pending sequel to Manchester-by-the Sea, if however the film continues to kindle Oscar conversations there’s room to further explore character development. Through the crucible of agony and the therapeutic effects of engagement in meaningful dialogue Lonergan may have sparked a series worth revisiting in various permutations of this wave of thought.
Manchester-by-the Sea opens Friday Nov. 18 th