ReelBob: ‘Manchester by the Sea’
By Bob Bloom
Lee Chandler is an emotionally damaged individual.
A horrific tragedy flooded him with pain and guilt, ripping a hole through both his heart and soul, which he considers irredeemable.
Lee — a magnificent Academy Award-winning performance by Casey Affleck — has fled his home in Manchester for the Boston area, where he works as a janitor-handyman at a small apartment building.
Lee has distanced himself from people, saying little, and refusing to open up to them.
The rare times he unleashes his pent-up anger is at a bar after a few drinks, where he deliberately begins fights. Lee does this not only to physically punish himself, but also as his way of still feeling alive.
Lee’s life is upended again when his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), dies from a heart condition. In his will, Joe has named Lee as guardian of his teenage son, Patrick (newcomer Lucas Hedges).
Lee is totally opposed to this arrangement, which his brother had never discussed with him or his son.
Lee, though his life is nonexistent and his job is menial, resists returning to Manchester or being responsible for his nephew.
Yet, there is no one else. Patrick’s mother, an alcoholic, had left years earlier, and other relatives are in Minnesota.
Patrick also is adamant about staying in Manchester, where he has a life playing on the school hockey team and in a garage band, as well as balancing two girlfriends.
Manchester holds nothing but bad memories for Lee, who tries everything he can to refuse his commitment and retreat to the protection of his sheltered, solo life.
But ever so slowly, the bonds of blood and family begin to overtake Lee. He is fond of his nephew, despite his lack of the parenting skills necessary to corral a teenage boy.
Affleck gives the finest performance of his career. It is a measured portrait of a man so overwhelmed by shame and hurt that he seems to simply go through the motions of living.
Lee is not a cold person. He is just so scarred that he fears embracing relationships.
Affleck speaks in low, measured tones, weighing each word. At times, he zeroes in on people speaking to him as if searching for some sort of reproach or insult he can pounce upon.
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan has filled “Manchester by the Sea” with many moments of silence. Most involve Lee, as it seems he is seeking the right words to say what he means.
The most powerful — and heartbreaking — moment in the film is when Lee and his ex-wife, Randi (a touching and vulnerable Michelle Williams), make peace with each other.
They fumble to find the right words to say to ease each other’s heartbreak. Randi, now remarried and with a newborn, feels remorse for her actions after the tragedy that split the once-loving couple.
For his part, Lee cannot coherently express his sorrow for his responsibility in shattering their lives.
“Manchester by the Sea” is graced with finely wrought acting, from Affleck to Williams to Chandler as the wise and affable older brother.
Young Hedges mixes the right amount of rebellion, cynicism, self-absorption and sympathy, while he struggles to maintain as much normalcy as he can in his now fatherless life.
Lonergan has created an unrelenting portrait of grief that drains you, but also captures and stirs your heart. You bleed for these characters, praying that they find healing or redemption.
“Manchester by the Sea” is one of the best movies of the year, an unforgettable experience that is a graceful and earnest exploration of melancholy, loss and, ultimately, the power of family and love.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
4 stars out of 4
Rated: R, language, sexual content