Friday, December 16, 2016

Now on Amazon Prime: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea movie poster
Manchester by the Sea (2016) - Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan; Starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Tate Donovan, Matthew Broderick.

By Kenny Howell

A man tries to shut himself off from society after a series of terrible traumas in Kenneth Lonergan's heartbreaking new film.

Casey Affleck (Interstellar) plays Lee Chandler, a Boston handyman who is called back home after his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (Carol), passes from congestive heart failure. Lee has already had a horribly traumatic event in his life a few years earlier that I will leave for the viewing. That event has taken him away from the place he used to call home, and away from his family. However, Joe has put in his will that his son Patrick will be taken care of by Lee, a fact that he didn't discuss with Lee ahead of time. Patrick is a typical 16-year-old fairly high maintenance kid, so Lee is forced to come out of the prison he has built for himself and try to arrange a future for the kid.

The setup sounds a bit hacky, but that is not where Lonergan goes. Lee has shut himself off from the world, only doing what is necessary to get past every single minute. Works well as a handyman because there is always something to fix, and he is constantly moving from one project to another. Even though he is forced to interact with people, he does the work, gets out and moves on to the next.

But those people aren't family, and that comes with a different territory. He can't just pass on Patrick, as much as he tries the entire film to just get him set up and get back to his life in Boston. He doesn't want to do the bare minimum, but he can't bring himself to get attached too much to Patrick or be in that town after what he has been through.

Affleck plays Lee as extremely awkward socially, often pausing for several long moments before answering the simplest of questions. He tries to keep everyone at a distance, which becomes very clear why after it is revealed what he has been through about halfway through the film. Lonergan accentuates that with his editing, which is oddly paced to say the least. Sometimes he comes into a scene late, leaves it early, gives short little snippets of action. The technique works for and against the film because it is hard to settle into it, but it also gets the audience in the psyche of Lee, who constantly feels off balance, trapped in these places he desperately wants to get out of.

Though this was an Oscar Best Picture contender, Lonergan didn't pander to the viewer for those big moments. There are no big revelation moments for his characters. They don't give great speeches about what they learned, they don't say what they are feeling every scene. The Oscar reel acting moments were quiet ones, and that is a good thing. The characters just live it, and we live it along with them, uncomfortable as it may be. It really shows how talented the group of actors are to be able to work through these scenes with most of what they want to say inside their head or on their faces. That is where it belongs, and that is where Manchester by the Sea stays. It's all the better for it.

Manchester by the Sea is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Rating: ***1/2

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