Affleck the younger lucks into career-making role when Damon drops out

Manchester by the Sea

‘Manchester by the Sea’

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams

Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

Rated: PG-13

 

This is the kind of movie you savor like a very nice wine. You don’t gulp it down and pour another quick glass. You take it in slowly and enjoy every nuance it offers. This is how Kenneth Lonergan makes movies, and while they are not to everyone’s palate, patience will reward you. They unfold slowly and, at times, seem to go nowhere. But trust that they do and you will come to fully appreciate his work.

“You Can Count on Me” (2000) was his first film to write and direct, and it gets better with each viewing. “Manchester” will also ask for multiple viewings if only to fully realize the humor Lonergan so deftly weaves into a story where there isn’t much to begin with. Starring in the lead as Lee Chandler is Casey Affleck, who took the part when Matt Damon had to drop out. How fortunate for Mr. Affleck, who is poised to win numerous awards for this performance as a Boston janitor forced to return to his nearby hometown when his brother (Kyle Chandler) passes away.

Lee is a hard-drinking, misanthropic, anti-social loner living in a dingy basement apartment that is so sparsely appointed it looks like he’s a transient. His arrival back in Manchester, a quaint fishing village, brings looks from the small town’s natives who either whisper among themselves or turn their backs to him. In flashbacks, it’s revealed that John (Chandler) died of congestive heart failure and leaves one son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), age 16. John requests that Lee become Patrick’s guardian, which comes as a shock to all.

Lonergan takes time in revealing just what tragic event is in Lee’s past that has shaped the way he is now. Lee’s former wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), is still around Manchester but remarried, and when she runs into Lee, the awkwardness is palpable. It’s clear there is so much unsaid between them. Their eventual reconnection is one of the movie’s best scenes.

Lonergan’s craft is in telling the everyday stories. This could be any family with a tragedy in its past dealing with the messy aftermath. There is love, resentment, anger and, ultimately, forgiveness and acceptance. Big finishes with full resolution and happy endings are not necessarily Lonergan’s style, but there is a sense of closure by the end of this film.

Affleck, the younger brother of Ben Affleck, gives a wonderful, raw performance as Lee, haunted by an event that cannot be altered and from which he will never fully recover. It’s matched by Lucas Hedges’ in the role of the teenager, Patrick. Their scenes are full of wry, irreverent humor and also an authenticity that feels natural to the characters and the story.

“Manchester” is a powerfully subtle piece that is character driven and revealing in its humanness. The perfection is found in its simplicity and Lonergan’s patient vision that allows scenes to evolve in a natural arc. A visit to “Manchester by the Sea” is worth it.

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