by Alan Yudman
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is such a quite, subtly told story, that it is sometimes hard to see exactly how tragic it is.
Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler. We meet him in a flashback where he is riding on his brother’s fishing boat, teaching his nephew the finer points of angling. It is quickly apparent that is in the past, because Lee is a janitor in a Boston area apartment complex. He’s sullen and angry, though his anger is the seething, slow burning variety.
Lee is handed a family tragedy and is forced to deal with it as best he can. And he is not prepared. In another flashback we find out why he is unwilling to deal at first and also where that seething anger is coming from.
I am being purposely vague because everything in this movie is a spoiler, especially the way Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan has constructed the film. It is better to go on this voyage of discovery knowing at little as possible about what you are going to see. Just know that it is fantastic.
Lonergan is a masterful storyteller. He constructs the film and the story through a series of slow reveals and poignant flashbacks. At some points you may find yourself scratching your head, wondering why Lee is such a.. well… dick. Then you find out and metaphorically smack yourself in the head.
Affleck is on a slow boil throughout the story. It is a skillful performance because he never reveals too much of himself, yet lets the viewer in just enough to see what is going on. His character development is subtle and incremental. This is by no means a story of feel good revelation. Bring tissues or a punching back depending on your demeanor. I know Affleck has a history of sexual harassment and treating women like crap. Should that prevent him from winning an Oscar for his performance here? The work is good enough. He has paid for his misdeeds through settled lawsuits. Is that enough penance to allow him to move on? I don’t know. It’s going to be a tough for Academy members to wrestle with their conscience.
Michelle Williams only appears in a few season, but they are key and she is fabulous.
In an era where audiences are bludgeoned with unskillful storytelling, it is wonderful to see an interesting story told so well. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA deserves all the praise and awards that can be heaped upon it.