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Manchester By The Sea - DVD Review

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

KENNETH Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea may offer a sombre reflection on grief but far from being the kind of misery-fest that suggests, it’s a richly rewarding and highly absorbing character study anchored by a superb, Oscar-winning performance from Casey Affleck.

Affleck stars as Lee, an ill-tempered loner living in Boston, who works as a janitor. When he is called back to his hometown following the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), he must contend with the emotions his return stirs, stemming from a tragedy in his past, as well as the surprise news that he is now legal guardian of Joe’s teenage son.

Affleck is quietly brilliant at channelling the conflicted emotions of Lee, while Lonergan slowly peels away the layers of the story to offer a heart-rending tale of grief born from tremendous tragedy.

Without giving anything away, the reasons behind Joe’s self-imposed exile are as heart-breaking as they are horrific, permanently scarring the lives of those affected by it. And yet life goes on. It must. For Lee, it’s about dealing with repressed anger and stifled emotions. For those around him, including his estranged wife Randi (Michelle Williams), it’s about attempting to move on – and perhaps feeling guilty for doing so.

For Joe’s son, Patrick (played equally brilliantly as a kid by Ben O’Brien and as a troubled teen by Lucas Hedges), it’s about making the best of a bad deal… a cruel life that has seen his mother disappear and his father robbed at a crucial age.

The scenes between Affleck and Hedges really do resonate. Yet they’re not just about bonding or managing each other’s grief (however that manifests itself); they can be quietly humourous too. Lonergan has a way of making some of the frustrating absurdities of life seem amusingly familiar.

Indeed, it’s that sense of reality that helps Manchester By The Sea resonate so deeply. It’s a film about real emotions and real people, even if some of the plot devices can feel contrived. There’s a quiet simplicity to it that’s disarming, lending the key scenes so much power.

A scene between Affleck and Williams, in which the latter lays open her heart, really does blow you away, as does Affleck’s work in the immediate aftermath of what causes him so much grief. It’s a powerhouse performance from Affleck; one that arguably plays to some of the actor’s strengths (his general sense of quietness), but which also stretches him in numerous ways.

Yet while Affleck is certainly centre-stage, Lonergan also makes sure to give everyone their moment in the spotlight. Hedges is a revelation, too, perfectly conveying the torment, anger and confusion of a teenager on the edge; Williams is terrific in a few short scenes, while Chandler is the calming influence at the centre of it all, whose compassion – in flashback – enables his loss to be felt so deeply. Somebody needs to give Chandler a leading [film] role of worth soon given the way he continually excels in small but pivotal roles (see also The Wolf of Wall Street, Carol and Super 8).

Lonergan, for his part, deserves high praise indeed for the way in which he manages to combine complicated emotional journeys with deft, everyday humour, as well as characters who are worth spending time with and caring for in spite of their flaws.

Manchester By The Sea is a thoughtful, intelligent human drama that tugs at the heart-strings in all the right ways. It is fully deserving of the critical adulation and awards recognition it has received thus far.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 137mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: May 15, 2017