Casey Affleck is Lee, the quiet, unassuming face of Manchester by the Sea. Working as a janitor in snow-crusted Boston he busies himself in the background of other people’s lives. He does his work, he goes home, he drinks. The idea of forming an emotional connection with anybody is alien to him.
It would be cruel to ruin the revelation that explains his current life, and writer-director Kenneth Lonergan takes the same attitude. His brilliant script tells you just as much as you need to know about Lee’s past, allowing for emotional complexity in the moment. It also puts faith in the audience by refusing to spell out things that lesser films would shout in the heat of the moment.
Lonergan’s direction is strong, but a little too unimaginative at times. His theatrical roots shine through in a mostly static framing style that privileges the actors and their dialogue. It makes for very effective performances, but perhaps not the most visually exciting film in the world.
Lee’s present-day life is soon hit by the death of his brother and at this point you may be thinking that Manchester by the Sea sounds too-maudlin-by-half, but Lonergan also manages to get an incredible amount of humour into the script. Lee is left to look after his 16 year-old nephew Patrick and, though they may be dealing with serious issues, their constant bickering is hilarious. Everyone knows about Affleck’s abilities, but Lucas Hedges is a revelation, channeling the unfiltered sarcasm of a million unimpressed teenagers into every word.
Manchester by the Sea is at once hilarious and tragic without ever feeling in conflict with itself. Lonergan’s masterful script makes sure of that, and his only real flaw is failing to keep things as interesting on screen as they are on the page.
CAST: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Matthew Broderick
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan
WRITER: Kenneth Lonergan
SYNOPSIS: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.