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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

'Manchester by the Sea' the living dead

Manchester by the Sea

It’s been a while since a movie nearly moved to tears. But ‘Manchester by the Sea’ did. A moving, content, fiercely acted, poignant and riveting film about grief. One so real that seems to come from some place called heart, yet at the same time, it’s clear it has been carefully 'constructed', masterfully planned and scripted by director Kenneth Lonergan, like this was a lost short "gritty realism" story by Raymond Carver, Russell Banks or Richard Yates turned into a stunning motion picture.

The plot is quite simple. Gloomy janitor, antisocial plummer and obvious fucked-up young man Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) receives the sad news of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passing away, reluctantly returning to the sailor’s town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, coastal Massachussetts, to take charge of the funeral’s arrangements as well of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). But aside from the loss of his brother, there’s a second mental blow awaiting our leading character: in his testament, Joe made him the sole guardian of Patrick, expecting him to stay with the popular-frisky teenager. An unexpected circumstance that forces Lee to confront the ghosts of his past there. The terrible reasons why he left his hometown.

Manchester by the Sea’ then reveals itself as an absorbing, gripping look into human pain. In one hand, we have the struggles of Lee and Patrick to adapt to the new 'environment' proposed by their brother/father, having to deal together with a tough amount of decisions and choices ahead of them. Common, mundane, relatable and somewhat manageable grief, one where routines and silly situations can even brought a smile (deadpan humour) to the spectator despite the affliction (majority of them consequence of the umm, 'lively' day-to-day 'duties' of Patrick). Life is absurd... and tends to end too quickly. But on the other hand, we have a real grasp of what 'hell on Earth' must be in Lee’s existence. An anguish that slowly reveals to the viewer in the form of flashbacks recounting his previous life within the community, his marriage with ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the cataclysmic tragedy that changed, better said condemned, Lee’s life forever.

In my opinion, what makes the movie works that well is how naturally the development of the film flows despite the dimension of the drama. That’s because Lonergan’s script is simply mind-blowing (most deserved Oscar). He’s able to handle the gravitas of the plot at two levels. There are some key, terrific, unforgettable scenes, but they are encapsulated between a vast amount of little-minor ones, where a facial expression, a small gesture, a subtle detail in a conversation going nowhere (or the lack of it) says it all. All to depict the misery of a broken human being, a person that, in order to keep going, has forced himself to be numb, permanently repressed, completely inaccessible, isolated (even punished?) by choice. And now has to adapt or fail into a new role that demands him to take responsibilities, interact with people and having strength of mind.

And that brings us to talk about acting. What Casey Affleck has done is nearly beyond words (the award was a no-brainer). What a performance for the ages! His ability to convey all the inner unrest, the agony of an impossible existence, the choking guilt, with such self-control and determination cannot be praised enough. But it wouldn’t be fair not to stress the excellent job of Luke Hedges (same can be said to their chemistry together) or the secondary but, as always, perfect performance of Michelle Williams (what a brutal, decisive scene they have) or C. J. Wilson as Joe’s best friend/boat business partner. All the characters have 'flesh and bones', their actions & behaviour gets you, and their suffering affects you. Kudos to them.

Being honest, all the complaints I can think of are so minor compared with the achievements of the movie that are almost ridiculous to point out. The unnecessary highlights of the music in several of the aforementioned crucial scenes. The dubious, not really developed, role of Patrick’s mother (played by Gretchen Mol). The "nightmare" scene, excessive imo. The kind of 'easy' economic conditions the immediate future holds up to Patrick and Lee, something that doesn’t look completely credible (being clearly a white working class story). But as I said, this sort of underachievements are almost anecdotes compared with the overall strength and honesty of the film dealing with such a sensible and difficult subject. So when you hear the 'I can't beat it', these four simple words, you completely understand and feel devastated too.

SCORE: 8/10

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