Manchester By The Sea is a restrained study in grief and loss

THERE'S A GRIEF THAT CAN'T BE SPOKEN: Affleck and Williams discover that their love cannot bear the burden of their sorrow.
THERE’S A GRIEF THAT CAN’T BE SPOKEN: Affleck and Williams discover that mutual love cannot bear the burden of separate sorrows.

Film: Manchester By The Sea

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret 2011)

Starring: Casey Affleck (The Finest Hours 2016, Interstellar 2014, Out Of The Furnace 2013); Kyle Chandler (Carol 2015, The Wolf Of Wall Street 2013); Lucas Hedges (The Grand Budapest Hotel 2013); Michelle Williams (Oz The Great And Powerful 2013).

Plot: Lee Chandler (Affleck) is scraping a living as a janitor in Boston when the sudden death of his brother (Chandler) means he has to become the guardian of his teenage nephew (Hedges) – and return to the small New England seaside town where he suffered the traumatic event that has destroyed his life.

What I thought of it: Manchester By The Sea lacked the extreme emotional impact that I had anticipated from the reviews I had read of audiences reduced to sobbing  and – in one memorable example – “howling like wolves” at the screen. None of that happened when I saw the film, though The Current Mrs Feeney did find it very sad, and admitted that she could easily have let the tears flow freely at the scene where Lee and his ex-wife Randi (Williams) meet and talk, still in love but condemned to be apart by the inconsolable grief they both carry.

The film certainly has more than its share of emotional topics – including alcoholism, broken marriages, teenage angst (and lust), and sudden and violent death. There is also an intrusive musical score that very obviously tries to manipulate a response from the audience.

It would have been very easy, in these circumstances, for the film to descend into clichéd melodrama – not so much Manchester By The Sea as EastEnders On A Boat. That it doesn’t is partly down to the restrained and controlled direction from Lonergan, who belies his comparative lack of directing experience, and does a very good job of handling his material.

But mainly the film triumphs over its conventional plotting thanks to the performance of Affleck as a man so traumatised by personal tragedy that he has reduced himself to a cipher of a human being. Lee habitually avoids women and regularly punches men; this is not a happy person. Affleck conveys the inner grief with complete conviction; in close-up scenes, everything sinks into his dead eyes, and nothing shines out. “There is nothing left,” he tells Randi in their climactic scene, and you believe him utterly.

He is very ably supported by the other main players, especially Hedges as Lee’s sparky nephew Patrick. Their awkward, funny, angry and slowly developing relationship is the light balance to Lee’s dark journey of the soul. But this is Affleck’s film; expect Oscar nominations.

Retired Bloke Rating: *****  Very good,  but with a ****** Outstanding performance from Affleck at its heart.

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