a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

manchester-by-the-sea-3At NYFF, Kenneth Lonergan’s Masterful “Manchester by the Sea”

 
This year’s New York Film Festival continues its’ winning streak with the debut of Kenneth Longergan’s masterful “Manhchester by the Sea,” one of the best pictures of this or any year.
 
Kenneth Lonergan has always been one of my favorite playwright/directors and I adored his first film “You Can Count on Me” which brought Laura Linney her first Oscar nomination and established Mark Ruffalo as a screen star. Mr. Lonergan is very concerned with  responsibility in sibling relationships. In “You Can Count on Me” it is a sister(Ms. Linney) and a brother(Ruffalo).
 
And in “Manchester by the Sea”, its’ core revolves around two brothers, one of them alive(Casey Affleck) and one of them dead. The ne’er do well younger brother Lee’s world is rocked when his older brother, who lives in the small seaside town of Manchester by the Sea, suddenly drops dead.of a heart attack.
 
Unlike most people in that situation, the late brother has written a very complete will and has a lawyer in place, so that his estate and his recalcitrant, teen-age son (Lucas Hedges) can be adequately provided for.
 
There is a house and a boat, and the house, boat and boy are all left in the questionable care of hot-head janitor brother Lee. 
 
Casey Affleck gets the role of his career here, as the reluctant Boston plumber/superintendent, who can’t resist drinking too much and getting into fights in bars. Recovering from a tragedy of his own, which I won’t spoil here, and the break-up of his marriage to the beautiful Michelle Williams, Affleck’s surly loner Lee is hardly the person to be landed with a complicated familial situation and responsibilities. It seems insane that his steady brother has left all this mess to him, and the mother, his sister-in-law, a hopeless alcoholic is not even in the picture. So it all goes to reluctant Lee.
 
He initially wants no part of it, and he especially doesn’t want to take care of his surly nephew, Patrick, played by red-headed Lucas Hodges. who makes an astoundingly accomplished debut here.
 
manchester-by-the-sea-5I’ve never warmed particularly to Casey Affleck as a performer, but here he shines  his way in this complicated part to a possible Oscar nomination as Best Actor, winning over our hearts as he tries to win over his nephew’s, who also wants nothing to do with him. As the audience, for most the the film doesn’t either. That is one of the great triumphs of Longergan’s that we have this great conflict with the character of Lee, almost as much as Lee has with himself.
 
Affleck has the complex job of making us hate his bad boy behavior and then love him for the innate good man that is buried deep inside his rowdy, hostile facade. And this is a great triumph that could win him the Oscar.
 
Hedges matches him beat for beat as they banter and bicker their way to some kind of understanding against the frozen wintery landscape of Manchester. A seaside town in winter is one of the bleakest back-drops imaginable, but it perfectly suits and embodies the desolate mood of this picture which seems to be going from one funeral to another.
 
And Michelle Williams is a sure-fire Best Supporting Actress nominee as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, whose role in  a very few, but powerful scenes, has an unimaginably, heart-breaking dramatic range.
 
But it’s not all doom and gloom in “Manchester by the Sea”, Lonergan has done the seemingly impossible and written a very humorous screenplay that is as funny as it is genuinely moving. 
 
In the Q &A that followed the press screening, Lonergan was asked just how he had also directed those actors to give such great, profound performances. He said, “When you have actors like that, that are that good, you just get out of their way.” What is the most important thing you have to do as a director? “You listen.

 

 

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