Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

It is not easy to quantify Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.  At times, it is a very taut drama with an engrossing story, yet the narrative unravels a bit, and finds itself spiralling into subplots that tend to take away from the emotional core and impact of the story.  
There is a lot to like, more than a lot to like; there are things to absolutely love about the film.  The performances are paramount.  Casey Affleck has never been better in the token stifled and stoic man who has internalized all of his pain that we surely have seen on screen before.  Lucas Hedges plays Affleck’s nephew, and surprisingly received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor (Ralph Fiennes from A BIGGER SPLASH, anyone?).  Michelle Williams is wonderful as Affleck’s ex-wife, and Tate Donovan and Matthew Broderick show up in small roles.  If there’s an unsung performance in the film, it lies within Kyle Chandler, who plays the deceased brother who shows up plentiful in Affleck’s flashbacks.
Kenneth Lonergan is not a filmmaker for everyone, his films are dark and keep a flame of intrigue lit, yet at times he will purposely detach us from the emotional story, and take us to a small arc that really doesn’t go anywhere.  Specifically in this film, there is a small scene where Affleck’s nephew (who he is the sole guardian of) visits his mother played by Gretchen Mol, and her fiance played by Broderick.  While the scene is a believable progression of the story, it is scenes like this that remove us from the core of the film.
The film’s narrative is akin to a relay race, with each act of the film, supplementing a baton pass.  At times, there is a slight fumble, but the rest of the race runs smoothly, and as expected from a filmmaker like Lonergan.  The best elements of the film lie within Affleck and his story, the final confrontation between Affleck and Williams is heartbreakingly wonderful.  It is not only the best moment in the film, but it is one of the best moments of this year in cinema.  This isn’t a bad film, by any means, but had the filmed stayed laser focused on Affleck and his tragedy, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA would be more than deserving of the hype and praise it entered the awards season with.

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