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Review: Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea
11.16.2016
9 10
This was originally reviewed as part of our Sundance 2016 coverage.

PLOT: A man (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown following the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler) to take care of his teen-aged nephew (Lucas Hedges).

REVIEW: Following the whopping $10 million acquisition of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA by Amazon Studios, it seems like writer-director Kenneth Lonergan is finally getting the moment he so richly deserves. While his YOU CAN COUNT ON ME was an indie sensation, his follow-up, MARGARET, spent years on the shelf tied up in litigation. Eventually released in a compromised form, the film was well-received by those who saw it, but it never got the reception it deserved. Nevertheless, Lonergan pushed ahead, and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA may be his most accomplished work to date.

One thing's for sure - it features a career best performance by Casey Affleck. The star of GONE BABY GONE, OUT OF THE FURNACE, THE KILLER INSIDE ME and more, Affleck gets the showcase role of a lifetime as our enigmatic hero, Lee Chandler. With the film adopting an elliptical form, cutting back and forth between the present day to Lee's relationship years earlier with his chronically ill brother, it takes us a while to get a handle on Lee. He seems like a tortured soul, working as an off-the-books janitor and living in a shabby basement apartment in Boston. While unerringly polite, he's also prone to picking fights in bars for perceived slights.

This troubled Lee is a stark contrast to the happy-go-lucky family man we see in flashbacks, with him a loving husband to his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and a doting dad to three young kids. Eventually, the tragedy that befell Lee is revealed and while stories of loss are nothing new to Sundance, the absolute honesty with which this is told and the truth of Affleck's performance makes this stand head-and-shoulders above the pack.

Lonergan's style is - as always - very accomplished. While the raw emotion is reminiscent of John Cassavetes, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA opts for a certain amount of beauty, with sumptuous location photography and intricate, masterfully composed shots. Meanwhile, Lonergan's dialogue is naturalistic and heartfelt. Despite the somber subject, the tension is often released by lighter moments, such as Lee's befuddlement with the way his teenager nephew (and excellent Lucas Hedges) juggles two girlfriends and gets his uncle to cover for him.

The entire cast is terrific, with Michelle Williams, although confined to only a handful of scenes, doing some of the best acting of her career as Affleck's wife. Their final confrontation is heartbreaking and one of the most aching real scenes I've experienced in the dozens of movies I've caught at the fest this year. Kyle Chandler is also extremely affecting as Affleck's brother, who has to dismiss his own deadly illness to help his brother work through a tragedy he can barely comprehend.

At 135 minutes, some may say that MANCHESTER BY THE SEA goes on a little long, but Lonergan uses every second of screen time and nothing feels extraneous. In fact, the running time gives this the feel of an epic and indeed it is. While it remains to be seen if the Academy will embrace something that's debuting on a streaming service, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is intensely cinematic and it's inconceivable that come the end of next year this won't end up high on the list of every critic's ten best list. It's superb.

Source: JoBlo.com

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