2hrs 17mins | Rated R13 | Violence, offensive language and content that may disturb
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Lee Chandler is a youngish man working as a janitor in a district of apartment blocks in Boston, Massachusetts.
At night, he goes to a local bar for a couple of beers, sometimes gets into a fight, then goes home to his cramped and cell-like basement room to sleep it off and repeat the cycle.
We sense, quickly, that Lee is far too cerebral to have ever willingly chosen to live his life like this. As Manchester By The Sea unfolds, we learn, through a series of flashbacks and present day events, what has happened to Lee and the people around him.
A phone-call tells Lee that his older brother Joe is in hospital. He drives to be at his side, in the small town of the title, an hour or so to the north.
Events unfold. Lee is compelled to stay. But for reasons that lie at the very heart of this film, being in his old home town is just about the worst thing that Lee could ever be asked to do.
Manchester By The Sea is a miraculous piece of writing and performance. The storyline is shot through with unimaginable tragedy. Yet writer/director Kenneth Lonergan conjures humour, lightness and energy out of this narrative that I would have thought impossible to find.
There are truly some genuinely funny as hell moments here. One courtesy of Lonergan's own cameo as an obstreperous pedestrian and several via a terrific performance – as Lee's 16-year-old nephew – from Lucas Hedges.
Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) carries every scene with a wounded, feral, intensity that dares us to look away and reject Lee, even when we have learned the depth of the guilt and grief he is carrying. It is an astonishing performance, one that will surely take Affleck to the Oscar podium.
Lee's measure of peace, when it arrives, is no new dawn or sudden understanding. There is no transformative love-affair or tearful breakthrough to close this film out - just a succession of small, telling moments.
Although, that said, I quite happily cried my eyes out twice watching this film.
Manchester By The Sea is a perfectly judged excavation and evocation of grief. And it is something more than that. Lonergan has written a film that understands male anger and repression better than anything I've seen in years. Maybe since The Son's Room – which Lonergan has surely been influenced by – or Sean Penn's The Crossing Guard.
Around Affleck, Michelle Williams does wonderful work – in a role we could happily have seen more of – as Lee's ex-wife. Williams has been turning in great performances in good films for years now. Manchester By The Sea might even see her finally bag the Academy Award she has been nominated for three times.
Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes comes from a background of high-end documentary and indie features. His unflashy, unfussy style suits Manchester By The Sea perfectly.