Manchester By The Sea – Review

If you are looking for a pleasant hour or two in a darkened cinema, then don’t go to Kenneth Lonergan’s latest epic, Manchester By The Sea.

This is literally a Winter’s Tale we watched unravel. The defiantly unlikable Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is summoned from Boston where he ekes out a living as a surly janitor, to Manchester-by-the-Sea, where his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died suddenly from a heart attack.

The movie centres on the conflict Affleck’s character passes through in dealing with the grief and uncertainty of suddenly becoming guardian to his well-formed and confident teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Throughout the film, Affleck navigates the complexities of dealing with the pain of returning to a town filled with personal tragedy.

Lonergan constructs his Winter’s Tale through an obvious metaphor. The death occurring in New England in winter means the ground is literally too frozen to bury the body, and we are left persistently waiting for both a thawing of the ground and the tension on screen to subside. Lonergan, employs flashbacks through the film to build on the already tragic narrative and to put together the pieces of Chandler’s excruciating past like a jigsaw. Complete with unremittingly bleak experiences and unlikable and unlovable characters played expertly by Michelle Williams and Gretchen Mol, Manchester By The Sea is a movie composed in an inexpressibly sombre way.

There is menace and barely restrained tension in this film, and there is strong dialogue and a great portrayal of just how crushing life can be.

Perhaps that’s why the film drags. Perhaps that’s why we see no redemption for the characters – even when the ground eventually thaws and the body is buried. But perhaps we all long for an uplifting ending, like Shakespeare’s Winters Tale, where the final act sparkles with solutions and humour.

However, that’s rarely life isn’t it? There are few uplifting endings for families that have faced great tragedy. Lonergan knows this and tells his tale well. It’s up to you to decide if you want two hours in the dark wrestling with other people’s problems.

Image: Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in Keneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea. Photograph: Allstar/StudioCanal