MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – ***1/2 OUT OF 4
Director-screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan has thus far made just three films-“You Can Count on Me” (2000), “Margaret” (2011) and his most recent “Manchester by the Sea” all of which revolve around the concept that human lives are tragic and imbued with grief.
“Manchester” is clearly the most emotionally riveting of the three because of the amazing performance of Casey Affleck as a Boston- based, handyman- janitor named Lee Chandler. His performance makes him the odds-on favorite to win the Academy Award for best male actor.
The set-up for the plot is simple but eloquent as Lee is summoned back to his Massachusetts hometown of Manchester when his older brother Joe drops dead of a cardiac arrest. His return is painful as he revisits his former wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and their three young children. Lee is emotionally paralyzed as he realizes that he is trapped into caring for his teenage nephew Patrick played by a socially and sexually challenged Lucas Hedges.
Lonergan takes us out of the realm of a typical Hollywood film. “I like to tell stories about people that are doing things that are too big for them”, related Lonergan to Charley Rose.
We revisit Lee’s earlier years and how he became the troubled man before us. We experience Lee getting high and forgetting a fireplace screen which leads to a conflagration of his home. We get sucked in to a vortex of shame, sadness and guilt that follows Lee wherever he goes.
The through line in all of Lonergan’movies is to move on and survive the trauma and in so doing you will become a better person. He does this with a great deal of verisimillitude. He is telling us that Lee’s grief can not be contained because his past lives on wherever he goes not the least in the town he is running away from and the nephew he feels unqualified to mentor, “Manchester by the Sea” is one of the year’s very best films.