ROK’s FIicks Review: Manchester by the Sea

Rhonda reviews the film that is taking the critics and award shows by storm.
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The movie is incredibly sad and powerful. Manchester by the Sea (a town on the coast, one-hour north-east of Boston) is the setting and title that’s nominated for multiple Oscars, based around a man dealing with his grief.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck“Gone, Baby, Gone) lives in a meagre basement bedsit in Boston and is a guy just trying to get by. His daily drudge of doing odd jobs, drinking and fighting, is interrupted by news that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler – “The Wolf of Wall Street) is in hospital after falling from his boat. When he finds out, too late, that Joe has died, he also discovers that Joe has appointed him custody of his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges – The Grand Budapest Hotel)

There’s more to be confronted than being his nephew’s guardian and shouldering the burden of childcare. What happened between him and his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams – “Brokeback Mountain”) left the gaping hole in his life still haunts him.   There’s not much early backstory as to why Lee is separated from Randi, but this, as well as some history of Lee and Joe together, is filled in throughout the film. The film’s flashback structure often thrusts you five to ten years earlier in the story without a subtitle to alert you, and this sometimes confuses the storyline.

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Lee is faced with a difficult decision; either stay in Manchester and be Patrick’s guardian or return to Boston, where life is familiar to him, but where Patrick will be forced to uproot his life.

Eventually, we learn why people look at/whisper about Lee and the very heavy burden he’s carrying.  In one of the movie’s most heart-wrenching scenes, Lee runs into Randi who now has a newborn child and is engaged to a devoted Christian, and she expresses regret over the harsh and painful manner she treated him after their divorce.  Instead of comforting Randi for her remorse, Lee abruptly walks off because he doesn’t want to think about the past anymore, he just wants to move on.

Affleck is great, softly spoken, but with so much hurt in his eyes – it’s easy to see why he’s nominated for Best Actor. Hedges is good as the teenage son, grieving for his dad, but continuing with life as best he can, including playing ice hockey, band practice, attempting to date two girls, while trying to understand and help his uncle.

It’s certainly not a fun or exciting film, but it is engrossing, as you learn more about the characters and the heartbreak they’ve all endured.

Casey Affleck’s performance is truly phenomenal and unforgettable. Although not a particularly likeable character, he gets the audience to sympathise with his complicated personality. It is his show from start to finish. 

ROKS FLICKS RATING: 5/5 glasses of bubbly (drink the whole bottle)

Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it?

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