A sail through rocky wa­ters

Rutherglen Reformer - - The Ticket -

An­other week, an­other crit­i­cally ac­claimed flick ar­riv­ing on these shores – no sur­prise as Os­car sea­son gets ever closer.

But Manch­ester by the Sea is a very dif­fer­ent an­i­mal to La La Land – there’s no singing and danc­ing or bound­less op­ti­mism on dis­play here.

In­stead Ken­neth Lon­er­gan’s third di­rec­to­rial out­ing is a down to earth char­ac­ter study about grief, re­gret and frac­tured lives that makes for a tough – but grip­ping – watch.

Casey Af­fleck stars as Lee Chan­dler, a jan­i­tor who re­turns to the tit­u­lar town when his brother dies and is forced to take care of his nephew Pa­trick (Lu­cas Hedges) and re-en­gage with exwife Randi (Michelle Wil­liams).

When view­ing the trail­ers for Manch­ester by the Sea, I was con­cerned it would be a de­press­ing tale and while Lon­er­gan’s story doesn’t pull any punches, it drags you off in a se­ries of dif­fer­ent emo­tional beats.

Meaty ma­te­rial, then, for the cast and Lon­er­gan coaxes Af­fleck into an even bet­ter per­for­mance than Af­fleck’s brother Ben man­aged in 2007’s Gone Baby Gone.

In fact, this is prob­a­bly the finest work of Casey’s ca­reer in a stripped-back, lived-in role that per­fectly em­bod­ies a char­ac­ter bur­dened by a trou­bled past who is all of a sud­den thrust into an un­wanted sit­u­a­tion way beyond his con­trol.

Wil­liams hasn’t al­ways been one of my favourite ac­tresses, but the 36-year-old is ter­rific here; much closer to her qual­ity work in Broke­back Moun­tain and My Week with Marilyn.

Randi is a spit­fire of a wo­man who gives as good as she gets in her back-and-forth ver­bal tête-à-têtes with Lee and the pair say more with their eyes, sighs and slumped shoul­ders than many other stars could with pages of di­a­logue.

Lon­er­gan utilises flash­backs to pa­tiently fill in the dots of Lee’s past and help the viewer un­der­stand why he’s so re­luc­tant to be back in his home town.

Jody Lee Lipes’ (Martha Marcy May Mar­lene, Train­wreck) de­sat­u­rated cin­e­matog­ra­phy im­pres­sively en­cap­su­lates a small fish­ing town with fa­mil­iar faces pro­tec­tive of their sur­round­ings.

The writer-di­rec­tor thank­fully drip feeds warmth and hu­mour into the of­ten hard-go­ing drama, not least dur­ing an un­ex­pected quirky hospital fam­ily con­gre­ga­tion in aid of Lee’s older brother Joe (a like­able Kyle Chan­dler) af­ter he’s di­ag­nosed with a ter­mi­nal heart con­di­tion.

But for chunks of the film’s two-hours-plus length, Lon­er­gan asks a lot of his au­di­ence by shoot­ing scenes of lit­tle con­se­quence – and there’s no get­ting away from the gloomy cen­tral sto­ry­line.

Wisely, though, he chooses to end things with a ray of hope as Lee’s jour­ney comes full cir­cle.

Over­all, Manch­ester by the Sea sails through one or two rocky wa­ters to take you on a beau­ti­fully-acted, mov­ing jour­ney.

Trou­bled past Wil­liams and Af­fleck share mem­o­ries

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