It takes a while to get into “Manchester by the Sea” and sort out who’s who, what with the many flashbacks, but once one gets one’s bearings, the film begins to take hold emotionally and emerges as a finely wrought drama.
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester By the Sea” provides the opportunity for Casey Affleck as handyman Lee Chandler to give a performance that has depth and award potential. Lee, who does odd jobs in a Boston suburb, is shocked when his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies suddenly. It turns out that his brother has willed him to be guardian of his son, Patrick, a teenager played tensely by Lucas Hedges.
Although resisting at first, Lee succumbs to the obligation, which requires him to move back to his hometown, Manchester, along the Massachusetts coast. Lee wants to return to Boston, whereas Patrick has all of his school and other activities in Manchester. Apart from all the growing up problems that a teenager presents, Patrick being pressured to move with his uncle to Boston becomes hot button issue.
The relationship in all its complexity could make a film in itself, and that relationship is intriguingly explored. But that isn’t the driving force behind the film. The essence is Lee’s past and his difficulty in coming to terms with a tragedy that shattered his life. The eventual explanation accounts for Lee ’s listless behavior and his inability to establish social relationships. Affleck is excellent in projecting Lee’s sad personality.
Lonergan writes subtly and directs with the utmost of care, stressing the need for the film to have a sense of place as a setting for the drama unfolding with accumulative strength. The effect is akin to reading a good novel. Other cast members playing characters who fit into the tapestry being woven include Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick.
“Manchester By the Sea” is a mature film that, if you give it a chance emerges into an engrossing drama that can involve you with its characters as they struggle to sort out their lives. An Amazon Studios release. Reviewed November 26, 2016.