IM Film Review: Manchester by the Sea
Writer-director [Kenneth] Lonergan, best known for 2000’s Oscar-nominated “You Can Count on Me” and the more recent “Margaret,” has a phenomenal ear for intimate, authentic dialogue, for how people really talk, not how movies think they do.
• Kenneth Turan, LA Times
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In his latest, the devastating Manchester by the Sea, its characters, led by Casey Affleck, speak and interact with each other with thoroughly authentic dialogue. Many of these conversations are genuinely funny and true to life, especially those between Lee and his nephew, played by a remarkable Lucas Hedges. As a viewer, I had no sense that I was watching a movie. It felt like I was observing an actual life story unfolding before me.
Of course, what that entails is a movie full of mundane conversations. Most of the words, in the final analysis, as in everyday life, don’t add up to much in the way of profundity or insight.
What really matters in Manchester by the Sea is silence. Ubiquitous spaces between the words generate the powerful punch in the gut this movie brings. The film is full of silence. The silences of an empty, grieving man who doesn’t know what to say in social settings. The awkward silences of those trying to relate to him. Excruciating silences of guilt and blame. Lonely silences that explode suddenly in arguments and bar fights. In the conversations and events we witness in this story, there are both thin crevices and expansive canyons of silence.
At times this verbal silence is accompanied by expressive classical music — pulsing, passionate works of Handel and Albinoni in particular — that pull the curtain back on the inner landscapes of grief haunting these people. Especially Affleck, who goes all in in this role, disappearing into a man marked by stunned, ineludible grief. Life has pummeled him into silence.
The film’s pervasive silence gives the few revelatory words its characters speak a power that moved me to tears on several occasions.
The story is relatively simple. Lee Chandler, a janitor in Boston, gets the news that his brother Joe, a fisherman in Manchester by the Sea, has died. As Lee takes care of the post mortem affairs, the attorney informs him that Joe made arrangements for Lee to take care of his teenage son Patrick if he should die. The film is built upon the structure of this transition and the decisions Lee must make.
As the narrative unfolds during the days and months after Joe’s death through events and flashbacks, we come to realize the layers of sadness, disappointment, and grief that make this situation unbearable for Lee and others in the family and community. In particular, we learn of one past tragedy that changed and colored everything, weighing down Lee and everyone else in relentless and merciless ways.
Manchester by the Sea puts a true-to-life human face on the Bible’s statement that all creation is “groaning.” In this case, it’s a groaning too deep for words.
Kenneth Turan says it well:
At home with deep, almost operatic emotions and willing to join them to that persistent strain of unmistakable humor, “Manchester by the Sea” reaffirms Lonergan’s position as one of our most daring and perceptive writer-directors, determined to confront large questions about the pain life causes and the degree to which it is survivable, if it is survivable at all. You can’t ask more from a filmmaker, or a film, than that.
• Kenneth Turan, LA Times
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