Review: “Manchester By the Sea”
Problem solving, discretion, understanding, being effective without being intrusive, cleaning up other people’s excrement, no one wants this job. Or do they, what job is it? Father, brother, husband, Lee (played by Casey Affleck) is a janitor, his work is largely thankless and Lee feels this, is frustrated by it, but accepts it as his lot in life. Through the well-paced, and thoughtful Manchester By The Sea we learn about the details and intricacies that have brought Lee to this existence, and the options he has to expand his reality or let it define him.
Casey Affleck easily inhabits, with quiet confidence and restraint, the role of a man with a past he wants to separate from and a future he’s forced to confront. The death of his brother from congestive heart failure places Lee in custody of his 16 year old nephew, previously uninformed of his brother’s wishes and unwilling or unable to overcome his own demons, Lee attempts to do the best he can with the hand he’s been dealt. Director Kenneth Lonergan has visited this territory before, and it seems he’s found a comfort in telling stories of people placed in situations that are bigger than they can handle alone. Finding people to help you through these, and being able to lean on them, is essential human survival technique, and Lonergan’s consistent moral.
The supporting performances ring just as true as Affleck’s, with Lucas Hedges as Patrick the nephew, playing the real driving force of most of Lee’s decisions and guiding him through the experience without knowing himself what he should do. Patrick, though much younger, is less reactive and more calculating than Lee, and the two have a bond that has been forged over years of shared experience. Their mutual survival is predicated on their ability to rely on each other and allow each other to be themselves, not easy while they take on the burden of loss of their brother and father.
Lonergan finds and subtley highlights moments of inconsequence, artfully compiling them so as to work with the major events of the film to show a reality that is always beyond our best laid plans. Life will always surprise us, and we will always be trying to catch up with it. Our happiness and survival are reliant on those around us, in our darkest and brightest hours. These themes run through much of Lonergans work, and this may be his best to date.