Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a loner who works as a handyman in several apartment blocks in Quincy Massachusetts. After his brother dies, he is called back to his home, to the seaside town of Manchester.He discovers he has been named the legal guardian of Patrick, his 16-year-old nephew.
Kenneth Lonergan has written and directed a slow burning drama that deals with more than one family tragedy. Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler is a broken man living one day at a time. The film is studded with flashbacks, so we come to understand that Lee wasn’t always the lost soul he is in the present day. Life was good about ten years back; he lived with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) worked with his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and drank with a circle of old school friends. The film takes its time getting to the central devastating event of Lee’s life and for this audience member it wasn’t worth the wait.
The movie has arrived on our shores with a plethora of pre-publicity. It has won Casey Affleck a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in A Leading Role and was nominated for four other major Globes. It is nominated in six major categories for the upcoming Oscars. It has extremely high scores according to Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB users. It has been feted by film critics from near and far. Perhaps I went to this with my expectations set too high. I loved Lonergans’s other features YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (2000) and MARGARET (2011). Both films have great strong performances, characters with moral dilemmas and hard choices to make. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA has these ingredients, too, but for me the excellent parts did not gel into an engaging whole. There are many great sequences. Michelle Williams is believable as always. Lucas Hedges makes a strong impression as sixteen-year-old Patrick. He has just lost his father and is in mourning, but he is in better shape than uncle.
The cinematography is excellent and we sympathetically freeze with the Chandlers through a New England winter. At 137 minutes, I thought the story took too long to make its points. The musical choices consistently threw me out of the picture, whether it was the too-on-the-nose positioning of an Ella Fitzgerald and Inkspots rendition of I’m Beginning To See The Light or the never-ending, time-spanning and ultimately inappropriate LSO version of Adagio in G Minor by Albinoni, the soundtrack often felt disconnected from the onscreen drama.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is in Australian cinemas now. (5/10)