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Manchester by the Sea Review

'Manchester' is a Crowning Achievement

Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester by the Sea" sounds like a whisper but echoes like a thunderous roar. It's quietly and deceptively powerful, featuring a screenplay that avoids histrionics in favor of well-earned and deeply felt emotions.
It shouldn't be a surprise that this is the case with Lonergan as the writer and director. His previous films - "You Can Count on Me" and "Margaret" - dove deep into the souls of the characters, which are constructed to feel like everyday people we may know. There has always been a striking authenticity to Lonergan's work and "Manchester by the Sea" might be his crowning achievement.
At the forefront is Casey Affleck, who stars as Lee Chandler. He lives a simple life in Boston as a custodian, keeping to himself and everyone around him at a distance. There's a sadness and an untapped rage brewing deep below the surface in Lee and for a while we are never quite sure why.
One day, Lee receives a call that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passed away from heart disease. Lee is forced to return to his hometown to deal with the loss of his brother. Joe left behind a teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), who Lee now has to care for. Lee isn't all that excited about the idea of spending a prolonged amount of time in his hometown and drudging through the past. He runs into his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams, who will break your heart in the mere minutes she has on screen). The two have not had much contact since their marriage ended.

By now, you may have rolled your eyes thinking that you've seen and heard this one before - guy goes back home and has to confront the lingering ghosts of his past. Correct, you have heard this one before, but you've rarely seen it so beautifully captured, written and acted as "Manchester by the Sea."
While it may seem trite, "Manchester by the Sea" never stops surprising you. The movie features heavy themes of loss and heartbreak, but is unexpectedly funny at several turns throughout. Affleck and Hedges - more on them in a moment - have such an enjoyable and dry rapport that you might want to see them in a mismatched buddy comedy.
As Lee, Affleck delivers one of the towering performances of the year, guaranteed to earn him his second Oscar nomination. His performance is so deeply internal that you would think Lee is a bomb waiting to detonate. Affleck keeps everything so controlled, which is much more impressive than the capital-A acting he could have done.
Hedges, in a major breakout role, elevates the role of Patrick beyond the sarcastic and often disrespectful teenager that he plays. There is a stunning amount of nuance within Patrick and Hedges translates that from page-to-screen with the effectiveness of a seasoned professional. Let's get him a supporting actor Oscar nomination.
You've probably been hearing about "Manchester by the Sea" since it had its premiere at Sundance in January. The film sold to Amazon for $10 million - a hefty price tag out of Sundance - and has been buzzed about ever since. It's a rare feat but all of the chatter and Oscar buzz that was heard 10 months ago has sustained and is earned. "Manchester by the Sea" is a human piece of filmmaking, where Lonergan's screenplay is its greatest special effect. It's very special indeed.

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