Editor’s Notes: Manchester By the Sea will be out on in its respective home video format February 21th.
Manchester By the Sea (Lionsgate) begins on a boat off the New England coast as Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) jokes with his young nephew Patrick while his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Patrick’s father, does the piloting. It looks as if this is an ordinary day for the three. Years later, Lee is a janitor for four apartment buildings in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he gets into arguments with tenants and picks fights in bars.
He gets a call that his brother is in the hospital back in Manchester. By the time he gets there, Kyle has died. Lee starts to console teenage Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and arrange the funeral, but it’s apparent that Lee wants to leave as soon as possible. Then he finds out that Kyle has named Lee Patrick’s legal guardian. Though his inclination is to refuse, Lee sticks around, trying to figure out what to do with his brother’s fishing boat, chauffeuring Patrick to band practice and dates, and taking care of the estate.
Director Kenneth Lonergan uses flashbacks periodically to fill in pieces of Lee’s backstory, which clarify why he is so uncomfortable being back in Manchester. A key revelation occurs late in the movie, explaining Lee’s attitude toward others, his inability or reluctance to engage in conversation, and the knowing looks he gets from various townspeople.
Affleck anchors this tale with a stand-out performance, easily his finest to date. When we first see Lee in the present day, he appears surly, non-communicative, looking to confront people verbally or physically. But as the film proceeds and we learn more about Lee’s past and the enormous guilt he is bearing, Affleck makes the character highly sympathetic. Since Lee is not big on chatting, Affleck has to convey his inner feelings through expression and body language. A particularly strong scene is a chance meeting with ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams).
Ms. Williams’ Randi is a key to Lee’s guilt. She has only a few scenes but is memorable whenever she appears. In that fateful meeting on the street, she wants to express what’s in her heart but finds it excruciating. Though the scene is brief, it is perhaps the film’s single strongest one, occurring after we’ve learned about a tragic event affecting them both.
Hedges as the teenage Patrick has a great deal of screen time and portrays a kid saddened by his father’s death and freaked out because his dad’s body will have to be kept on ice until the cemetery ground thaws in spring. He’s in a band, navigates tentatively between two girlfriends, and has sentimental affection for his father’s boat, now in need of expensive repair. In the few scenes in which Patrick breaks down and shows his true emotions rather than teen know-it-all, Hedges makes a solid impression.
Manchester By the Sea features a uniformly excellent cast headed by Casey Affleck, whose haunted eyes convey a grief-stricken soul — an imperfect creature ill-equipped to deal with life’s unexpected disappointments and tragedies. Director Lonergan creates a gloomy sense of place with overcast wintery skies and a grey endless ocean providing rich atmosphere. The film is rated R.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include the featurette “Emotional Lives: Making ‘Manchester by the Sea’,” audio commentary with director/writer Kenneth Lonergan, and deleted scenes. A digital HD copy is included.