To some degree we are captives of the past. Whether it is family issues or being a fan of classic TV shows or movies, the past never escapes us. Whilst one should always look forward, noting previous events is healthy. It gives us guidance to continue crafting new personal goals and explore ideas. ‘Manchester by the Sea’ skilfully develops this theme by examining how people cope with past transgressions to forge new horizons. It’s a solid drama sure to linger in the memory.
Working as a handyman in an apartment block, Lee (Casey Affleck) is a loner with a pessimistic view of life. Angry at those he thinks have done him wrong, his retreat from everyday existence is complete. Receiving a call telling him his brother has died, forces Lee from his shell. Attending his sibling’s funeral, he is stunned to learn he has been made guardian of his nephew Patrick (Ben O’Brien). A teenager with his own issues, Patrick and Lee are forced to navigate emotional waters. Dealing with past issues, Lee reassesses his existence as he and Patrick craft a new future.
‘Manchester by the Sea’ is grounded in genuine reality. By avoiding clichés usually found in these types of films, it steers clear of giving easy answers to complex problems. Lee’s issues are many with his percolating rage always threatening to explode. In Affleck’s hands, Lee is a damaged soul whose anger causes him to make bad choices. In Patrick he sees what he could be if only he can confront the past. O’Brien also does well as Patrick, whose character’s ability to deal with death is light years ahead of Lee’s.
Kenneth Longergan directs with steady assurance allowing the drama to naturally flow. Generating small humour out of a very bleak story is testament to his abilities. Also its screen-writer, Longergan has crafted easily relatable and full-bodied characters who are full of insight. ‘Manchester by the Sea’ wrings much from its location during a harsh winter, mirroring Lee’s emotionally cold heart.
With a strong cast and solid script, ‘Manchester by the Sea’ is thought-provoking. It deals with tough themes with a maturity rarely seen. In an award-season field full of dramatic pretenders, ‘Manchester by the Sea’ embraces its gritty realism until its last frame.
Movie Review Rating out of 10: 8
Movie Review by Patrick Moore
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