Five stars. Rated R, for profanity and sexual candor
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 12.2.16
Some films are constructed so beautifully, and lensed so crisply, that they seem to glow. Life of Pi is a recent example, and it brought cinematographer Claudio Miranda a well-deserved Academy Award.
|After being brought back to his home town by the sudden death of his brother, Lee (Casey|
Affleck, left) is left with the question of what to do about his now parentless teenage
nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Manchester by the Sea has the same radiant allure, its northern Massachusetts fishing village setting portrayed with such luxurious sparkle that it literally feels like heaven on Earth. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes deserves equal recognition, come Oscar time.
The same came be said for just about everybody connected with this poignant drama. This luxurious, rustic setting is juxtaposed against star Casey Affleck’s heartbreakingly persuasive, all-encompassing depiction of grief. This is one of those assignments that transcends acting; within 10 or 15 minutes, we simply accept the fact that Affleck is Lee Chandler, an estranged native son brought back to his hometown under tragic circumstances.
Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has an ear for the way people actually talk to each other: true conversation, which often erupts in short-tempered bursts, as opposed to the carefully sculpted “movie talk” that generally passes for dialogue. He’s a methodical and unhurried filmmaker; this is only his third big-screen feature, beginning with 2000’s similarly impressive You Can Count on Me, with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo shining in the poignant saga of a woman’s awkward reunion with her younger brother.
It has become clear, with time, that Lonergan is adept at coaxing superlative, quietly lifelike performances from his stars. Affleck is by far the standout here, but he’s in good company; co-stars Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler complete the core ensemble, together enacting a story that illustrates the crippling, pervasive impact of guilt and anguish.
We meet Lee during his daily routine as a Boston-based janitor, solemnly dealing with clogged toilets, recalcitrant radiators and persnickety light fixtures. Some of the lonely tenants in question welcome his presence; others flirt awkwardly; still others are rude. Lee is uniformly stoic, to the point of appearing discourteous; we initially wonder if he’s on the spectrum, unable to properly process social niceties.
But then we realize no, it’s more a case of a man lost in a swamp of despair, and no longer able to navigate. Affleck moves with uncertainty, as if worried that the very ground might trick him into placing a foot wrong. His sleepy eyes fail to register friendly overtures, as if he’s perpetually stoned, yet he takes no drugs. He does, however, drown the remnants of a gray day with a few too many beers at the local tavern, at which point he may become a short-fused, belligerent drunk: picking fights as a means of securing a punishing beat-down.
All of this emerges in a deft, superbly assembled introductory montage; Lonergan is a master of small, character-establishing details.