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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – Still Waters Run Deep

ManchesterByTheSea

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams

8.5/10

Lee (Casey Affleck) might not be happy with his life, but his position as a janitor in Quincy at least affords him a kind of emotional numbness that he is comfortable with. When his brother dies, he finds himself forced to return to the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts to arrange a funeral and look after his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Neither is the easiest thing for Lee. He has a dark history with the town and would prefer not to be there, and with no experience in dealing with teenage children or how to work through emotional crisis, he is in for a tough time.

This is a film about gruff uncommunicative men learning how to communicate.

Actually, to be entirely accurate, this is a film about gruff uncommunicative men failing to learn how to communicate, but they try. That attempt is enough in Manchester By The Sea; that stretch for character development seems more realistic than some sudden 11th hour acquisition of emotional intelligence. They are defined by the social environment around them, that of a working fishing community with deep historical roots, and any growth is shaped by that. Fortunately Manchester By The Sea is a master at utilising uncomfortable silence. It is part of the fabric of any conversation. Hence a little can say a lot, or the silence itself can speak volumes. Somehow characters are carved out of null space and “guy talk”, but they are convincing, and at times tragic.

Yet there is also an underlying current of gallows humour, appearing at the oddest times. Hence for something that could easily be a heavy emotional tale about death and emotional fragility, becomes a more nuanced piece, and extremely funny. This complexity adds to Manchester By The Sea, ensuring that it never becomes dour. It’s a fine line walked by writer/ director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, You Can Count on Me), but one that he absolutely nails.

Casey Affleck thrives here, giving it his all. It is such an immaculately contained performance, as he plays a man on the verge of emotional shut down, but you see his thought processes and feel the emotions that he’s struggling to keep under lock and key. Lucas Hedges is allowed a bit more verve, as the bereaved Patrick, throwing himself into teenage life in an attempt to avoid grief. The young actor stands toe to toe with Affleck, and the two produce some great exchanges, both comedic and with emotional depth.

Expressive, despite its laconic script, this is a moving piece grounded by a fine and terse performance from Affleck.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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