Friday, March 10, 2017

Movie Review: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA


An uncle (Casey Affleck) is obliged to return home to care for his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother dies. Unbeknownst to him, he is to be the guardian of this young boy and struggles with the decision. Throughout the movie he recounts past memories that caused him to leave Manchester and distance himself from his past.

Manchester By The Sea is a highly character driven piece, an almost classical drama of present-time. Whilst keeping itself at distance from a highly-stylized approach to the story, it presents the events in a perfectly orchestrated scene weave which makes this 140 minute drama pass in the blink of an eye, almost leaving you wanting more.


Where writer/director Kenneth Lonergan succeeds the most in his storytelling is in the portrayal of the profanity of everyday life. He shies away from any kind of contextualization or dramatization that could lead to clich├ęs or melodrama. The editing is symbolic of this in the way it cuts at any given moment which confers this feeling of incredible ordinariness. It implies that no one is in control of a story, there isn't an over arching veil of plot or character structure, which is why the scenes where the drama occurs hit the viewer so intensely.

The filter of film is really successfully removed here thanks to some very smart decision making, the first one being the non cinematic aspect ratio, and what you manage to witness are the reality of the lives of these people in all of their unpredictability and the way they deal with their obstacles as people and not as characters. The whole cinematic language used for the film is very elementary but not banal in anyway, every choice of camera work, editing, color and composition feels organic to the through line of the film. The camera is generally steady, but when it moves it moves for a very specific reason, it charges those key moments with even more depth and adds a whole other layer to how the characters interact with each other.

Still, when it comes to the meat of the story, one has to look at actors and script, yet they are no less, if not more engaging than the whole package of the movie. This is such a classy script, one that could fail to capture the nuance in the drama, yet by keeping such a fine balance of humor and drama and by the sole incorporation of the humor in this, it catapults it to another level of grandness. Whatever you've heard about this film being depressing is misrepresenting this picture. This is a very funny film, Lucas Hedges brings on a fabulous performance that touches both effectively the dramatic sides, but even more so the comedic ones, given his very lively character, and that his chemistry with Affleck works effortlessly well. Then of course when it comes to tying it all together and giving the audience that emotional punch, Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams do some showcase actor work. The way they carry themselves is brutally emotional and they manage to both really disappear in their roles from their first frame, very deserving of their acting accolades for their roles here.

Where I might have got a little less out of this feature is in the way if pays off its story. I think that on one side it stays true to its honesty to these people's story, but on the other side I think that its just slightly underdeveloped, it rushes a little to the end and could have easily done with another twenty minutes for me in rounding out the characters more and fleshing out the motivations of their decisions. I also think that the ending purposefully wants us to be left still craving more, feeling like something has not yet been said, but I personally really wanted to give these characters something more. I feel like their journeys would have remained interesting for the story's purpose and I was a little cut off when I realized that some of their decisions were not being explored more.

Being sharply focused on a character/story driven film has its downsides, which often seem to fall on the film's rounding off, yet it also has its peculiarities and Manchester By The Sea might just encapsulate all of them. It is nothing more than people having conversations in houses but it is alive and thrilling to watch, a masterful exercise in an modern day classic drama.

James' Score: 8.5/10


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