Su­perb 'Manch­ester by the Sea' swells with emo­tion

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

It's hard to over­state the mag­nif­i­cence of Ken­neth Lon­er­gan's "Manch­ester by the Sea ." His third fea­ture fol­low­ing "You Can Count on Me" and "Mar­garet" is one that swells with the spec­trum of hu­man emo­tion. Hu­mor, anger, cyn­i­cism and love all crash into one an­other to cre­ate an el­e­gant com­po­si­tion of image and sound that is film­mak­ing and sto­ry­telling at its best. It's cen­tered on Lee Chan­dler (Casey Af­fleck), who we meet as a quiet cus­to­dian in Bos­ton. He fixes clogged toi­lets and leak­ing show­ers for the ten­ants and shov­els and salts the same walk­way day after day with me­chan­i­cal re­solve. He is docile but stub­born and seems to have a deep dis­in­ter­est in peo­ple. He is alone, but not lonely and at night, he drinks and drinks and drinks.

There is rage fes­ter­ing un­der the sur­face for rea­sons un­clear. All we have are care­fully cho­sen glimpses of the past, when Lee sur­rounded him­self with fam­ily and had spirit and life, but we don't know what hap­pened to turn him into this shell. Then his brother Joe (Kyle Chan­dler) sud­denly dies and he must re­turn to his home­town to take care of his teenage nephew, Pa­trick (Lu­cas Hedges), a hot-headed but sen­si­tive kid ill-equipped to deal with this tragedy. Lee's ghosts make the pic­turesque Manch­ester a cold and hellish land­scape. Ev­ery­thing is a re­minder of why he had to leave in the first place and the nerve is still ex­posed. At least in Bos­ton, he didn't have to see peo­ple who knew. He just had to deal with him­self.

Gor­geous cin­e­matog­ra­phy

There is no easy way to con­tinue talk­ing about the plot with­out muck­ing up the im­pact of the struc­ture. Lon­er­gan, who also wrote the script, al­lows the story to re­veal it­self to the au­di­ence, smartly weav­ing to­gether past and present and build­ing ten­sion to a dev­as­tat­ing crescendo mid­way through - en­hanced by the gor­geous cin­e­matog­ra­phy of Jody Lee Lipes and Les­ley Bar­ber's so­phis­ti­cated score. Tis­sues are, un­sur­pris­ingly, rec­om­mended, but the film is packed with gen­uine wit and hu­mor too, of­ten when least ex­pected. In this way, it feels like life, where fits of laugh­ter some­times are the only relief from shat­ter­ing mo­ments.

The film of­fers rich per­for­mances, too. Hedges, who had a small role in "Moon­rise King­dom," is beau­ti­fully af­fect­ing as a kid in flux - push­ing the bound­aries of the re­la­tion­ship with his re­luc­tant guardian while try­ing to main­tain a mod­icum of teenage nor­malcy. And, of course, there's the scene that has ev­ery­one buzzing - a raw con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Lee and ex-wife Randi (Michelle Wil­liams) that will surely be­come a fix­ture in awards reels this sea­son. And yet, it's re­ally the small mo­ments and char­ac­ters that add up to the whole - C.J. Wil­son as a fam­ily friend, Tate Dono­van as Pa­trick's hockey coach, Josh Hamilton as Joe's lawyer, to name a few.

High­est cal­iber

But in the end it is Af­fleck's movie. In some other ver­sion of the uni­verse, the role would have been played by Matt Da­mon, who ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced. Mean­ing no dis­re­spect to the fine act­ing of Mr Da­mon, what ac­tu­ally tran­spired was the out­come that was al­ways meant to be. Af­fleck sinks into Lee's deep sad­ness and anger with mas­tery - it is a ca­reer defin­ing per­for­mance and de­serv­ing of all the ac­co­lades. I saw "Manch­ester by the Sea" at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val in Jan­uary and again re­cently and was de­lighted to find that it not only held up, but is even more re­ward­ing and af­fect­ing the sec­ond time around.

It is a film to be watched, re-watched, stud­ied and cel­e­brated as a sin­gu­lar tale of tragedy, grief and af­ter­math. The scope might be small, but do not mis­take its im­pact "Manch­ester by the Sea" is an epic Amer­i­can tragedy of the high­est cal­iber. "Manch­ester by the Sea," a Road­side At­trac­tions re­lease, is rated R by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica for "lan­guage through­out and some sex­ual con­tent." Run­ning time: 137 min­utes. Four stars out of four.

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