Manchester By The Sea: Film Review
Cast: Casey Affleck
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Predicated on tragedy, Manchester By The Sea should, in theory, be a tear fest.
But punctuated with large swathes of dry dark humour that pierce the moment, its solemnity never quite hits the level it aspires to.
The story revolves around Casey Affleck's disenfranchised janitor, an emotionally barbed and prickly Lee whose life sees him randomly irritate his tenants or start bar fights before retreating back to his basement flat in a tenement building.
When receiving a call that his brother (Kyle Chandler, resplendently resolute and gruff in flashbacks) is dead, Lee finds himself given reluctant guardianship of his nephew (Lucas Hedges).
Forced back to his former hometown and a past he's wanted to avoid, Lee's world slowly begins to fall apart again as the tragedy that enveloped him is gradually revealed.
Manchester By The Sea is a mesh of flashbacks, cuts and moments interlaced into a longer narrative; and, as a result, the power of it largely rests on how invested in it you are. (Even though the script's quite adept at getting you inside the head of Affleck's distanced Lee.)
It's supposed to be a portrait of grief and dealing with bereavement; though, at times, it verges on being too concerned with that side of things to be as emotionally investing as it wants to be.
There's no denying Affleck's power in the role of the man unable to move on from grief and accept a shot at happiness, even though his occasionally over pronounced affectation of brooding makes it really look like he's thinking before acting in this dramatic variation of The Odd Couple. But, at times the aching sadness and tragedy within connect with enough potency to be hugely impressive.
However, there are moments when Lonergan's over-bombastic use of soundtrack overwhelms the quiet horror of what's unfolding on the screen; it's here that a foot off the pedal would have been ultimately more compelling and given the quiet power of the tragedy the space it needs. With scenes that find some conversations either held off screen or start quietly before fading up, there's a feeling of intimacy that's garnered by the execution.
From Affleck's withdrawn and reclusive body language to Williams' achingly dramatic announcements, through to Lucas Hedges' rollercoaster turn as the teenager caught in the maelstrom of emotion and grief, everyone turns in a stellar performance as the dramatic meat is tucked into.
And yet, for a film that's so evidently drenched with potential emotion and queitly moving in its observations, Manchester By The Sea doesn't quite hit some of the emotional weepy-points that you'd expect. In moments like the aforementioned score blasting over the awkward veracity and unfolding of events, the potential for a breakdown is drained as the 2 and a quarter hour movie plays out.
While the air of quiet desperation is there throughout, and the inherent sadness evident, Manchester By The Sea remains a film that's masterfully put together, wonderfully acted and executed, yet bizarrely remains so missing in the pulling of the heart-strings.
But, despite all that, it's a film that will be showered in critical love, even though this curiously overplayed hand is nowhere near as affecting or moving as expected.