Manchester by the Sea
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) dwells in Boston and makes a living as a menial janitor. His existence is bleak. Living alone in a one-room apartment, he is friendless, moody, quick-tempered and perpetually sad. Dire events in the past have destroyed his family and peace of mind and Lee is caught in that limbo world between the hurting and the healing.
He is forced from his mental torpor by the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and reluctantly drives back to his home town, the picturesque fishing village of Manchester-by-the Sea, Massachusetts, where he gets a shock at the reading of the will.
Joe has left his 16 year son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) in Lee’s care.
Patrick’s alcoholic mother (Gretchen Mol ) has long since abandoned the family. Lee is totally ill-equipped for this responsibility, with completely inadequate domestic arrangements to include Patrick and a reluctance to enter the life of a nephew that he scarcely knows.
Equally, Patrick is highly unwilling to leave his home community and move to Boston and live with Lee. He is popular at school, plays in a rock band and is a star hockey player with two girlfriends no less.
As the story unfolds, frequent flashbacks show us Lee’s life in happier times, married to Randi (Michelle Williams ) and with three small children. How that ended and the reason for Lee’s devastating unhappiness is revealed slowly as the tale progresses.
Writer / director Kenneth Lonergan certainly specializes in screen stories of loss and grief. But his writing is so reality-based, vivid and nuanced, his direction so deft and skilled and his characters so richly formed that they bypass angsty-pathos and rise above melancholia to a resolution of life-affirmation.
This is an acting showcase for the principals and without question, the finest work ever done on screen by Affleck. Michelle Williams is also remarkable. In a movie packed with highly emotionally charged moments, a scene involving she and Affleck having a chance meeting on the street is immensely powerful, unforgettable, shattering. She is ferocious and both actors dig deep and project their characters with every ounce of their will and skill.
Produced by Matt Damon (who was originally slotted to direct and star but trusted Lonergan implicitly – good call and lensed beautifully by Jody Lee Lipes, this production has garnered six Oscar nominations.
Deservedly so. Although a tad on the long side (2hr 17min) not a moment is wasted.
This is powerful cinema.