Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: Sad and Scarred

February 2017

"Manchester by the Sea" is one of the most acclaimed films of 2016 that received six Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Williams) and Best Original Screenplay. Casey Affleck is the odds-on favorite to win the big prize this year, after his wins in the Golden Globes and the BAFTA. The only major award Affleck missed out to win was the SAG which went to Denzel Washington.

Lee Chandler was a reclusive, ill-tempered man who worked as a janitor in an apartment building. He was called back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea because his brother Joe had a heart attack and died. Lee was unsettled when he was named as guardian of Joe's teenage son, Patrick.  Lee still could not bear living back in Manchester because of a major family tragedy that haunted and scarred him forever.

Casey Affleck's multi-awarded lead acting in this film was actually more subtle than showy. Lee Chandler was not really an expressive guy. He was an introverted everyman who did not really express himself well. Affleck had to convey his emotions succinctly and quietly. He was outstanding in his ordinariness. This low-key performance was really in direct contrast with the style of his main rival for the Best Actor prize this year, Denzel Washington, who had a much more flamboyant role in "Fences".

Michelle Williams played Lee's ex-wife Randi. Since their estrangement, she has since moved on, while he has not. Williams was only in a few scenes, but she made the most of them. Her main highlight was a scene when she spoke with Lee on the street about their tough events around their separation. There was a restrained elegance there that certainly merited her awards consideration.

The third member of the cast nominated for an acting Oscar is 20-year old Lucas Hedges in the role of Lee's 16-year old nephew Patrick. Hedges also had a tough role to play, having lost a father, and now struggling to live with an unstable uncle he barely knew. Hedges did well in his difficult role, even though I thought there were moments of awkwardness. He should count himself lucky to simply be in a nomination shortlist that includes Jeff Bridges.

This film about the life of a major loser is very depressing and gloomy. The story did not really have a big emotional climax before it ended. The pace was slow and even-keeled. The most heartbreaking scene happened in a devastating flashback. Many people may find this film pointless and boring.  But for me, it cast a mesmerizing spell that engaged me to the very end. 8/10.

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