Casey Affleck Anchors ‘Manchester by the Sea’

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No votes yet Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Tis the season for earnest character studies, and Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” has a doozy. Portraying a Boston guy with a mountain of sadness within, Affleck harbors the range of emotions like a coiled snake ready to strike, but manages to keep it all undercover.

He portrays a man with reticent high drama, which is the preferred story arc of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me”). His journey is multi-faceted, involving a dying brother, his teenaged nephew and a ton of issues left behind in his old home town of Manchester, Massachusetts. As in any film drama located near Beantown, there will be hard drinking followed by fights, brother-to-brother loyalty and a wondrous array of Boston accents. The film follows the lead of Affleck’s various inner afflictions, and ebbs/flows based on what happens to him. It leans just north of being like a soap opera, and it is the performances that keeps it above that line.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is a grumpy janitor in Boston, who suddenly receives some stunning news. His brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away, succumbing to a heart condition that had been diagnosed earlier. This leaves his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) with no kin, and he has been named the guardian. He travels back to his hometown Manchester to make the arrangements.

Lee (Casey Affleck) and Patrick (Lucas Hodges) Try to Cope in ‘Manchester by the Sea’
Photo credit: Amazon Studios

The films tells both Joe and Lee’s story through flashbacks. Lee was once married to Randi (Michelle Williams), who has stayed in Manchester. Joe’s ex-wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) is estranged from her son, and is a recovering alcoholic, but is now on a Christian path with her new husband Rodney (Matthew Broderick). The situation is complicated by Lee’s past, and his reluctance to take on Patrick is rooted in what had happened to him in Manchester.

Casey Affleck is excellent as Lee, and saves the film from melodrama. His inner soul is tortured, but never gets overindulgent about it, which is a hard balancing act as an actor. His demons are many, but focuses on one past transgression, which is exacerbated in his brother’s demise. The chemistry with nephew Lucas Hedges is off, but the teen was the least likely character as written. Had the script not thrown in his penchant for drinking and fighting, it would have been an almost perfect expression.

The supporting cast MVPs are Grecthen Mol and Matthew Broderick (who is killing it lately in smaller character roles) as the recovered Christian mother of Patrick and her husband. The one tense meeting scene with all three unfolds authentically, and gives insight to this type of co-dependent couple (both with the Lord and the patriarchal homes it develops). Michelle Williams, in a smaller role, is reliably steady as Lee’s ex-wife, and like Affleck doesn’t overdo it. Kyle Chandler is always welcome, and is particularly good when accepting his fate in the flashbacks.

Randi (Michelle Williams) Confronts Lee in ‘Manchester by the Sea’
Photo credit: Amazon Studios

The Boston thing is almost a cliché at this point, and Matt Damon and the Afflecks (Ben and Casey) are somewhat to blame. Seth Meyer did a killer sketch this year on his late night show called “Boston Accents” and the “Manchester” folks obviously hadn’t seen it before it was produced. There was a Boston accent couple yelling at each other in the film (like Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch in that old SNL sketch), and the aforementioned drinking/fighting characteristic. Also as mentioned, the character of Patrick was a bit much, but as a contrast to Affleck’s hang dog sadness, he had a few good scenes.

While not the “masterpiece” that other critiques are touting, “Manchester by the Sea” is a decent ride of human feelings, and creates some worthy empathy, as long as you don’t have to park the car by Harvard yard. Wicked.

”Manchester by the Sea” continues its nationwide release on November 25th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol and Matthew Broderick. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald,

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