Casey Affleck is stunning in Kenneth Lonergan’s flawed Massachusetts melodrama.
It reflects very well on the people who made Manchester by the Sea that, though a 137-minute drama in which almost nothing happens- it never becomes boring. Such is the intense watchability of star Casey Affleck and the enchanting atmosphere created by the small-town Massachusetts setting that Manchester, Kenneth Lonergan’s Oscar-tipped third feature, is entertaining and moving throughout its long stay.
Affleck is Lee, a Boston janitor who returns home to the titular Manchester after his brother’s sudden death. Lee learns he is nephew Patrick’s designated guardian, and involuntarily begins to accept the responsibility this brings. Meanwhile, the town itself seems to be stirring a profound sadness not only in Lee, but in all those he encounters. A past tragedy is soon revealed that explains Lee’s demeanour, and allows the film to explore grief and guilt in a variety of fascinating ways.
Lonergan is not a showy filmmaker, but he is a determined one, and Manchester presents the audience with a selection of complex characters through whose eyes we witness a relatable but immensely sad story. Affleck is a champion brooder, and this is a wonderful showcase of his talent. Acting opposite Michelle Williams, underused in a mere handful of scenes, we are challenged not to award this artist for his exceptional work. A less appealing character than Lee is Patrick, played by The Slap‘s Lucas Hedges. Selfish, apathetic and surrounded by adoring friends and girlfriends, he’s a less-than-sympathetic teen who never charms Lee (or us) as much as he needs to. The film’s structure and use of flashbacks is flawed, and Lonergan’s use of music invites accusations of unoriginality. Despite the cast’s brilliance and the film’s general moodiness, there’s undeniably a lack of iconic dramatic moments. This is a film built around Affleck’s Lee and- arguably- little else. But what a performance to build a film around.