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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, January 06, 2017

Movie Review - Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Tate Donovan, and Matthew Broderick
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Having high expectations doesn't always hinder one's cinematic experience (see La La Land as a case in point), but Manchester by the Sea is the unfortunate victim of this odious psychological conundrum.  It's not that writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's film is bad in any way, it's just that after months of talk about fantastic performances and gripping drama and depressingly tragic moments, I found myself the slightest bit let down by what I saw onscreen.  While a nice "slice of life"-style film (albeit with some severely sad scenes), Manchester by the Sea rarely grabbed me on an emotional level in the way that I feel it should have particularly given the subject matter.

Casey Affleck is the anchor here as Lee Chandler, a young thirtysomething janitor living in Boston.  His mundane life is interrupted one snowy afternoon when he receives a phone call that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suffered a fatal heart attack.  Lee makes the two-hour journey to Manchester - his hometown - where he finds himself forced to relive his past and the reasons he left the town to begin with, all the while becoming the new father figure to his sixteen year-old teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) whose mother (Gretchen Mol) abandoned him and his father nearly a decade prior.

There is a heartbreaking backstory that oppresses Lee in his present life and it has weighed heavily on him for years.  Lee's past is revealed to us in spurts by Lonergan in a way that feels natural -- sometimes flashbacks can take away from the current tale, but Lonergan's spacing out of Lee's past adds to the sullen man's characterization.  Casey Affleck nicely balances Lee's past and present, creating two distinct personalities that evolve into one another believably.  His Lee is wrought with pain and desires nothing more than to essentially be punished for his sins, but he also realizes, upon his brother's death, that he is needed to step up to the plate and become a reliable figure in young Patrick's life.

Newcomer Lucas Hedges is a nice counter to the depressed Lee as his Patrick deals with his father's death in a different manner, deciding to act strong as if it doesn't affect him which ultimately leads to one of the better scenes in the film as the gravity of his situation begins to manifest itself.  Michelle Williams has a small, but critical role in the piece and she's given two heartbreaking scenes that give us not only an understanding of her character's plight, but also add a great deal of depth to the character of Lee as well.

Ultimately, though, I wanted to be moved more than I was with Manchester by the Sea.  Given the subject matter -- which you must understand I'm not fully detailing here -- I wanted to be grabbed by Lee's plight and I never quite got there.  Technically, Kenneth Lonergan delivers a somber, intimate film that looks pretty, but the film lingers too long -- at 137 minutes, it's got about forty minutes of lifelessness that could've been left on the editing room floor. While I can't say I was bored per se, the length of the film did affect its dramatic effectiveness.  Sure, Manchester by the Sea has a lot of things going for it -- it's well shot, well acted -- but in the end, it didn't get that guttural emotional response from me that I can't help but think it wanted.  At times, I was moderately moved, but I wanted more.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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