Review: Manchester By The Sea (15)
* * * *
DIRECTOR Kenneth Lonergan follows up the potential of his last film Margaret with a wintry Massachusetts waterside setting for a story of what happens when pain, too big to get over, damages a family and embeds itself into a community.
There’s talk of Oscar nomination for the movie and Michelle Williams as Randi, also Casey Affleck’s performance as withdrawn Lee Chandle.
Lee's a man who runs from tragedy and fills his days with a dead-end job in a strange city far from the love and the loss. A man of few words, Lee is portrayed as almost indifferent to the world and people around him, but is also shown boiling over into violence a couple of times when drink and his battened-down pain and anger collide.
Casey Affleck plays Brooklyn janitor Lee Chandler as a coiled spring just keeping his straight-talking the right side of polite – most of the time – for the residents of the four housing blocks he serves.
It’s not a satisfying job, we see him stand while one resident dithers about a small repair, another in his hearing asks her friend on the phone whether she’s ever had a sexual fantasy about her janitor, while an angry woman assumes wrongly he’s coming on to her and complains to his boss.
But a phone call to say his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is dying sends Lee racing back to his hometown, Manchester By The Sea, where he finds it’s his job to take over the care of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedley).
The two keep their grief under the surface – unexpected comedy edges into their conversation –- days and nights busy with Patrick’s efforts to have sex, play in a band and keep his dad’s ropey boat, Lee hitting out at himself or strangers when drink releases his pent-up pain.
But the tragedy he’s left behind is still waiting.
All that’s best about Casey Affleck’s performance comes in the speech where one of the many sudden flashbacks takes us to Lee explaining to the authorities why he was out of the house when his family was threatened by catastrophe.
Who for? This is a touching, absorbing experience as the audience is guided through past and present by a set of characters fleshed out by accomplished actors (Affleck, Chandler, Williams and Hedley particularly). They dig deep to give real, vulnerable, striving lives with a pinch of humour, though some might feel it all delivers less than it might have if Lee’s trauma was less internalised.
Lee: But I’m just the back-up.
Lawyer: I’m astounded Joe didn’t run this past you.
Lee: He knew what I would’ve said.
Quick review: An emotionally shutdown janitor has to go back to his hometown to take care of family business and is forced to confront his past - and plan a future. But is he ready to accept the place and people he left behind?
The film will return to Eden Court Cinema in February.