Arresting in its stillness, washed either in the liquid colours of sail and sky or in brooding winter greyness, Manchester by the Sea feels in many places like a gallery of photography exhibits. There is not a stir in the clouds nor movement in the waters. Boats moored at the dock appear as if they’ve been nailed to the air.
Set in the Massachusetts town where its small community is as intimate as the anchored skiffs, this poignant story follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a handyman, who while eking out an existence in Quincy, Boston returns home on the sudden death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), to find himself entrusted with the care of a 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Imposed with this unexpected responsibility, Lee is drawn back to confront his own past, in which an excruciating incident had created the very demons he has been wrestling with inside him ever since.
With grace and control Director Kenneth Lonergan tells in this, his third, feature an unseen emotional narrative, by interspersing flashbacks with present-day realities.
Like his basement apartment looking out on passing feet with three tile-sized windows Lee views the world through the prism of his ineradicable mistake. Affleck, hunched and stone-faced gives his character an inscrutable aloofness — uninterested in women, nor in life — that cracks on occasion into fistfuls of unjustified violence. With a convincing portrayal of somebody clearly intent on coping with new circumstances while all the time defeated in his personal battle, the BAFTA nominee wins hearts by droves.
Hedges, by the same token, wears his part with jaunty talent. Essentially still a child on the cusp of adulthood, Patrick astonishes with his worldly cynicism, is precocious, yet vulnerable. His best times with his uncle are spent fishing on his late father’s boat. When he silently smiles while holding the girlfriend with whom he has just made love after a day sailing in the sea, one wonders about the source of his satisfaction.
And aptly in Lonergan’s creation, men are not the only ones who struggle in their private lives. Here, everybody is flawed and women are just as incapable in their efforts at communication and managing their feelings.
As Lee’s former wife, Randi — a role curiously marginalised — Michelle Williams in grappling with grief and remorse delivers in a performance that is beyond reproach.
With Albinoni’s Adagio weaving through a sparkling screenplay the writing alludes more than once to the way that life, for all it throws at us, brings with it choices as well.
Manchester by the Sea is a film about the true grind of real living where subsequent to turbulent events people often find themselves caught up in an inner swell that rages wildly beneath a quiet surface.