Manchester by the SeaLondon Film Festival 2016
8th October 2016 6.00pm at Odeon Leicester Square
9th October 2016 11.00am at Odeon Leicester Square
11th October 2016 8.45pm at Ciné Lumière
Kenneth Lonergan is obsessed by death. His features have all revolved around absences in families, or shocking, fatal events that seem to come out of nowhere – though crucially, his focus lies on how we, the living, carry on in the face of such tragedy. After the extensive production disasters that troubled his last film, Margaret, it seems like a minor miracle that Lonergan was able to direct again; that it’s such a sensitive and finely-wrought work is deeply gratifying.
In Boston, Massachusetts, plumber Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) haunts an apartment block. Quiet, yet bearing a repressed, blue-collar sense of rage, he gets a phone call that gives him some terrible news. His brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of his heart condition; he returns to his home town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, where his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is entrusted into his custody. So begins an uneasy, paternal relationship, as Lee must navigate his torment to find some hope of redemption.
Lonergan tells his story in his own inimitable way. A playwright who moved into filmmaking, he does an amazing job at giving us familiar scenes, then taking unexpected detours in how they progress. His characters walk and talk like real people, often unsure of themselves; at one point, Lee swears at medical staff, pauses for a long time, then mutters “sorry”. Another wonderful trick he pulls is putting in flashbacks at odd times, often as a response to a certain word, time, or place; Lonergan then edits between the past and present with quick-fire rhythm – a little confusing, but true to the structure of memories. A standout, operatic sequence of flashbacks comes out of nowhere in an attorney’s office; it devastates, and changes the entire nature of the drama.
While the relationship between Lee and Patrick provides humour in spades, it’s a film that’s a lot more challenging than people might expect. It bears surface resemblance to his earlier dissection of paternal responsibility, You Can Count on Me – but in its thematic resonance, namely the various ways in which people struggle to process grief, and in its form, it’s a lot closer to Margaret. Granted, Manchester by the Sea is more streamlined, lacking that film’s sense of sprawling ambition. But anchored by a trio of great performances – Affleck, Hedges, and Michelle Williams, in a small but unforgettable role as Lee’s ex-wife – Lonergan’s work becomes one of confidence, authenticity and masterful maturity.
Manchester by the Sea is released nationwide on 13th January 2017.
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