Manchester by the Sea

 

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In Kenneth Lonergan’s third accomplished feature, tragedy lurks in the creases of the everyday.

 
Manchester by the Sea
 

There’s a giant emotional elephant at the heart of Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film. And it’s what haunts the waking hours and sleepless nights of blue-collar janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). He’s not the most agreeable of protagonists, being a moody, angry and socially awkward human being. He picks fights in bars and is reprimanded by his boss (Stephen McKinley Henderson) for speaking back to a customer, but then Lee has an awful lot on his mind. Then, as his life coils into ever decreasing circles, a tragedy hits him in the solar plexus. He finds himself the sole guardian of his brother’s son, Patrick, a young man living the life that Lee himself has lost…

 

There are no huge emotional showdowns in Lonergan’s third feature. Real life trundles on in all its banality when a sentence or a paragraph break is punctuated by a sudden shard of tragedy. Like in real life. Lonergan’s strength as a filmmaker is to resist the temptation of melodrama and to create an almost documentary-like realism. Yet he coats his prosaic scenes with a cinematic finesse, overlaying his shots of a barren, snowbound New England with a glorious classical score. It’s an eloquent counterpoint to the inarticulate demons that haunt his characters, trapped in the routine of their lives.

 

Casey Affleck is the most unassertive of actors and seldom even appears to be acting. The film’s showiest performance – if you can call it that – rests with the young Lucas Hedges as Patrick, who at times resembles a lanky, teenage version of Matt Damon, one of the film’s producers. Michelle Williams is good, too, although she is perhaps too famous a face to fit in with the film’s sense of humdrum anonymity. In tone, the film resembles Mia Hansen-Løve’s exquisitely intelligent Things to Come, like catnip to psychoanalysts everywhere. If it fails to generate the same level of drama as Lonergan’s previous outings You Can Count on Me (2000) and Margaret (2011), its pleasures prove to be more cerebral. Indeed, one of the most powerful scenes culminates with a noise off-screen that lasts no longer than two seconds: the sound of chinking glass. Of course, it screams volumes.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick, Tate Donovan, Kara Hayward, Heather Burns, Ben O’Brien, Stephen McKinley Henderson.

 

Dir Kenneth Lonergan, Pro Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Kevin J. Walsh and Lauren Beck, Screenplay Kenneth Lonergan, Ph Jody Lee Lipes, Pro Des Ruth De Jong, Ed Jennifer Lame, Music Lesley Barber, Costumes Melissa Toth.

 

K Period Media/B Story/CMP/Pearl Street Films-StudioCanal.

137 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 13 January 2017. Cert. 15.