It’s Oscars season which can only mean one thing: long, lingering shots of pretty much nothing start to appear in films. Oh look a tree, let’s fill a couple of minutes filming it sway in the wind. That sort of thing. From what I’d heard and read about Manchester By The Sea, this was what I was expecting, was I right?
Manchester By The Sea tells the story of Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone), who is a handyman looking after blocked toilets, showers etc. One day he gets a phone call that his brother Joe Chandler, played by Kyle Chandler (Super 8, The Wolf of Wall Street), has passed away. Unbeknownst to Lee, Kyle has put him as legal guardian of his son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, The Zero Theorem). This turns Lee’s world upside down and sees him heading back to Manchester, a place that is full of memories he’d rather forget.
Regular readers will know just how much I hate the ‘usual’ Oscar films. The ones with the slow, lingering shots of pretty much nothing. The ones with lots of talking, not much happens, then they end abruptly and you’re left thinking: “what the hell”?
Manchester By The Sea is kind of like that but, at the same time, it’s also quite different. Yes there are lots of lingering shots, lots of scenes of people doing boring, repetitive things. However, it’s also funny, it’s dark humour absolutely, but I did laugh at quite a few moments, including a few I sort of feel like I shouldn’t.
The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks as Lee returns to Manchester and you see exactly why he doesn’t want to be there and many people don’t want him back. It’s a tragic story and this is our protagonist being dragged to rock bottom. But what’s refreshing is that writer / Director Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs of New York, Analyze This) doesn’t bring him back up all Hollywood style. It’s much more realistic than that, much more real. Lee is down and that’s pretty much where he stays apart from small victories.
Lonergan has wrote a film where the pacing reminded me of heart monitor you see in the movies. There are sections of the film that are long and stretched and, frankly, dull, but just as you think you’ve had enough you are hit with either some bleak humour or Affleck just loses his shit. Then the pace drops again and we’re on this up, down rollercoaster throughout.
Performance wise everything you’ve heard is warranted. Casey Affleck moods his way through the film, not really giving a shit and yet caring too. Kyle Chandler is brilliant as the big brother and Lucas Hedges doesn’t let the side down as the moody, yet dealing with death of father remarkably well, teenager. The scenery is stunning yet absolutely freezing.
If you can get through the slow moments and stick with it I can say that the pay-off is worth it. It’s a great story, told in an interesting way with stand-out performances and beautiful, but cold, scenery. It won’t be on my wish-list but I’m not disappointed to have seen it either.