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Manchester by the Sea (2017)

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If there is one way to get me giddy for a film, it’s having Friday Night Lights' very own Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) in it.  Although other fans of one of the greatest TV shows ever may also be hoping for a 2 hour Chandler motivational speech, that isn't how Manchester by the Sea pans out.  Instead Kenneth Lonergan (who writes and directs) has created a deeply moving and realistic look at grief, family and loss.  A comedy it ain't, but Manchester by the Sea was a film I could have watched for another 5 hours so attached was I to it's characters and story.  It's subject matter makes it a difficult sell, but I really hope this finds an audience as it was an enthralling piece of work.
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The story is a difficult one to tell while avoiding certain spoilers, but I think that is important so as not to lessen the impact of particular scenes.  Essentially, Manchester by the Sea is about Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) - a man forced to care for his nephew (Lucas Hedges) following the death of the boy’s father (Kyle Chandler).  A favourite to bag a Best Actor Academy Award even before he received the Golden Globe, it’s not hard to see why critics are gushing over his raw performance of a man dropped in the most difficult of situations.  Lee is clearly troubled, numb to those around him as life appears to pass him by.  The film's opening highlight his disconnect from people shuffles from one handman job to the next, and shuns any sort of affection.  He drunkenly lashes out strangers as if he needs to, and even the death of his brother brings little visible emotive response.  When he's forced to return to his home town there's a lot of whispers and head turning: "The Lee Chandler?"  It's not until later when everything is brought together that those murmurings, and Lee's nature make complete sense.
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The film is interspersed with unobtrusive flashback reveals.  At first I hadn't realised what I was watching was in the past but I like that the director trusted the intelligence of his audience to work that out and piece the story together themselves.  For the first 30 minutes or so it's not clear how this is a character we're supposed to sympathise with.  It isn't until later when the two timelines meet and reveal why Lee turned from the centre of the party to the man seeking the shadows of an alien city that everything before and after make complete sense.  His character is just as intriguing following the reveal, and we better understand him.  It's a note perfect performance from Casey Affleck and completely deserving of every accolade coming his way right now.  The supporting cast are great (particularly Lucas Hedges) but it's Affleck who carried the weight of the story.  He must be in shot for at least 95% of the entire run time, and I really enjoyed has restrained he was, while bubbling under the surface.  This isn't some Hollywood star screaming at the screen for someone to hand him an Academy Award, but a masterclass in allowing an audience impart their emotions on to him.

The choice of music is striking, unconventional, and I thought each worked really well.  I got very carried away in the emotion of the scenes on numerous occassions, and the choice of music played it's own part in that.  
The best thing about the film though, is how real it is, and I often felt like I was intruding and listening in to genuine conversations.  The dialogue is genuine, the jokes are human, and makes for a believable world of fully fledged people.  A minor nitpick was that Michelle Williams wasn't in this enough.  That's a credit to her performance, but hers was a character I thought had a lot more to give and a bigger story to tell.  Her second billing, and appearance in the posters is a surprise having seen the film.  I also thought it ended a little abruptly but it's a story that had no real acts, no ebb and flow, and it was in keeping with that.  As I've said, I really didn't want it to end at all, so maybe I was just annoyed at that!  I was really surprised by Manchester by the Sea.  All the build up was about Affleck's performance and while he didn't disappoint, it's no vehicle for a one man show.  It tells a very honest and painful story that sounds a lot more hard work than the film was to watch.  Affleck gives the best performance of his that I've seen since the criminally overlooked, Gone Baby Gone (2007).


Comments

  1. Wonderful review Phil. I could not agree more. He was absolutely sensational. Not enough Coach though you're right!!

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    1. Did you catch any of Bloodline mate? Heard good things and feel I should support the main man.

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