One of the very hot tickets this yeah, Kenneth Lonergan, directing from his own script, pretty much lives up to the hype. Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, possibly the least chatty central character you’ve come across for quite some time. Lee lives alone in a tiny apartment provided by his employer for the job he diligently carries out everyday, custodian for four buildings. Only the occasional foul mouthed outburst at petulant tenants interrupts his workmanlike existence. Well, that and hankering after fisticuffs having sunk a load of beer. Clearly all is not well with young Lee.
These suspicions are confirmed when a tragedy drags Lee back to his home town of Manchester, where people rather portentously refer to him as ‘That Lee Chandler’. Lee is back in town to bury his recently deceased brother and it’s through a series of increasingly revealing flashbacks to his previous, happier existence that we start to appreciate the real reason behind Lee’s personality issues.
When the big reveal for his woes kicks in, soaring strings alert us to the fact that this is a REAL tragedy and the REAL reason why he’s an asshole. I’m mocking slightly as it is the only misstep in this wonderfully put together movie. Affleck is on outstanding form as Lee, a character made all the more difficult to nail down due to his sparing use of the English language and his buttoned down way of dealing with challenges. Regular outbursts of swearing clearly point to more violent tendencies, tendencies that Lee is forced to channel into his frequent bar altercations.
The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. Michelle Williams flits in and out of the story as Lee’s ex-wife but she is central to an utterly heart breaking scene towards the end of the movie as she bumps into Lee in the street of their hometown. Lucas Hedges is likewise superb as Lee’s brother’s son, Patrick. Perfectly channeling a stroppy teenager but also one who has genuine reason to hate the world and one that has a deep, meaningful bond with his wayward uncle.
Manchester By The Sea isn’t an easy watch, it tackles the type of tragedy that we can only imagine but it does so in such a way as to keep you riveted to your seat. Lee is a complex character and one that is very hard to sympathise with at first but as his life is revealed, you can’t help but despair for the boy. Lonergan’s script is nicely paced and the cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes paints a beautifully bleak picture of Manchester (not that one) that suits the tone of the movie well.
Touching, brutal, shocking and wonderfully played, this one will have you thinking it over time and again once you’ve left the screening.