December 28, 2016

Manchester by the Sea: Blood Is Thicker than Water in New England Family Drama

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) was having a hard time hanging on to his job as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, when he received word from a family friend (C.J. Wilson) that his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), had just suffered a heart attack after he fell on his fishing boat. Lee immediately rushed to the hospital to learn that his sibling had just passed away.

Joe had been raising his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) by himself, because his wife (Gretchen Mol) had a serious substance abuse problem. Lee not only has to tell Patrick about the tragedy, but he has to tell him that, in accordance with his brother’s last wishes, he is now his guardian.

Reluctantly, Lee moves back to his hometown, Manchester by the Sea, a place where he’d already had more than his share of misfortune in the past. While trying to raise a headstrong 16-year-old, he is also forced to confront his personal problems, especially when he crosses paths with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams).

Thus unfolds Manchester by the Sea, a drama written and directed by two time Oscar nominee Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me and Gangs of New York). Another Academy Award nomination is likely for this heartrending portrait of a working-class hero.

Lee is not your typical protagonist. He’s an underachiever with a checkered past. Yet, by the same token, it is clear that he is determined to do his best for Lucas. Unfortunately, Lee is a man of few words who finds it difficult to communicate with his teenage nephew.

Nonetheless, Lonergan manages to explore Lee’s psyche in a novel way that not only makes him accessible, but likable. Credit must go to Casey Affleck, too, for his performance in a role where he was often forced to resort to non-verbal communication in situations where words escaped Lee.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality and pervasive profanity. Running time: 137 minutes. Distributor: Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions.