By Marc S. Sanders
Whether it is Gone Baby Gone, or The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, or even Good Will Hunting, Casey Affleck is an actor who never compromises for glamour or grandeur in his roles. He will look ugly, dress down or be the most unlikable of characters to preserve the authenticity of a movie’s script. I imagine good directors just let him loose and film him with whatever he comes up with on the spot. It would be a tribute to his talent to do so. Here, in this Best Picture nominee, he is incredibly moving and quietly unhinged. He’s excellent.
Manchester By The Sea is a heavy, dramatic script held together by a simple story. Affleck plays Lee Chandler who will probably be destined to endure one unspeakable tragedy after another for the rest of his life; hammered away until it seems there’s no way to ever recover from inner demons of guilt and sadness.
At best, his recently departed brother (the always reliable Kyle Chandler) blesses him with an opportunity by making Lee the guardian to his 16 year old son, Patrick, played by Lucas Heges in one of the best screen debuts I can remember. He’s an eerie doppelgänger for a young Matt Damon.
Patrick needs Lee, and Lee, who doesn’t know it yet needs Patrick.
Manchester By The Sea takes its time to set up story and character, and maybe that is its downfall. People get in their cars, they shovel snow, they get out of their cars, they shovel more snow. All this set up for a 2 hour and 15-minute film might handicap the pacing, but I can’t think of a better way to improve upon its heart wrenchingly real narrative. The tragedy at the center of Lee’s turmoil is difficult to accept.
Michelle Williams as Lee’s wife is proves once again that she is an amazing actor finding her own unique method for a penultimate crying scene. She is underused. I would have liked to see more of her in this film.
Manchester By The Sea was nominated for Best Picture, Actor, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actress. All well-deserved but maybe not worthy of the awards. (Affleck won the award, actually, and so did Kenneth Lonergan for his screenplay.) I think there were a few better nominees in each of these categories. Still, had it not been for the Oscar nods I probably wouldn’t have watched it. All I can say is, I’m glad I did.