Outstanding but sometimes forbidding movie’s chilly tonal colours are more than matched by its emotional content. Review: Patrick Compton (9)
Set in the deep midwinter on the American north-east coastline, this outstanding but sometimes forbidding movie’s chilly tonal colours are more than matched by its emotional content.
For those who associate Manchester with a couple of English football teams, this is the American version, just north of Boston, where a family tragedy is played out and its emotional implications almost ruthlessly itemised.
The film’s writer/director is playwright Kenneth Lonergan whose first film to reach Durban was his remarkable, sprawling Margaret, starring Anna Paquin, which was made in 2005 but only released six years later after a post-production hell. It was a picture that hugely impressed the critics, including me, but hardly made a mark on audiences – in Durban as elsewhere.
Now, with the arrival of Manchester By The Sea, Lonergan seems to have hit the critical and audience jackpot. The movie has been widely lauded and its star, Casey Affleck, received the Best Actor award at the Golden Globes on Monday (January 8).
Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a handyman eking out a meagre existence in the town of Quincy, just south of Boston. He’s a reliable, skilful worker, but he seems frozen emotionally, a state of being punctuated by occasional outbursts of anger which lead to barroom brawls.
When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) collapses and dies, Lee travels north to his former home in Manchester where he reconnects with his extended family, particularly Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
In Manchester, locals point at the almost sociopathically withdrawn, brooding character and say to their friends: “that’s THE Lee Chandler”. Gradually, through the pertinent use of flackbacks, Lonergan fleshes out Lee’s character and that of his family, particularly his nephew Patrick and ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Three-quarters of the way through this 132-minute film we are finally led to the shattering event that defines Lee’s notoriety and explains his icy self-loathing.
Affleck, brother of Ben, is note perfect as a man whose calm exterior conceals an ocean of rage and self-hatred beneath. It’s certainly the performance of his career to date. He gets excellent support from the rest of the cast, particularly Hedges as his nephew and Williams as his ex-wife although she is given frustratingly little screen time.
Major kudos must go to Lonergan himself for his impressively naturalistic screenplay and his determination, at all times, to go for truth rather than artifice in human relations. Praise also to cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes for his icy visuals.
Notwithstanding the movie’s sobering theme, it would be wrong to claim that it only represents a journey through human darkness; there are also shafts of light, some of them humorously presented. This is a movie that reminded me, at times, of Richard Linklater’s masterpiece, Boyhood, particularly its feeling of complete authenticity in its dealings with human affairs.
Manchester By The Sea opened in Durban on January 6 at Cinema Nouveau, Gateway Mall. – Patrick Compton