Curtains Up on Manchester by the Sea

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A gem of a film.

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Manchester by the Sea is a fine film. Handsomely mounted and exceptionally acted — it’s movies like this that remind us how powerful simplicity can be.  This is an adult drama that combines the best elements of comedy and tragedy and walks a very fine tightrope of tonality that, in lesser hands, would have become a sappy melodrama.

A meek and reserved janitor named Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) gets word that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) died and that he has entrusted the guardianship of his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) to him. He goes back to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts to bury his brother and inform his nephew of his fathers passing.  Going back home stirs up plenty of hard memories in Lee, more so when he meets up with his ex wife, Randi (Michelle Williams).

I was never a Casey Affleck fan. I think of him as a character actor that pops in and out of movies to make the rather bland movie star leads look interesting. But here, in Manchester by the Sea, he gives a performance that will be remembered for a long time. He is sublime. As is Michelle Williams. She proves to me again that she is one of the best actresses out there. The young Lucas Hedges will be a star after this, no doubt. The word flashy does not apply to this cast. Everyone is understated, quiet and just about note perfect.

This was a big acquisition at this years Sundance Film Festival and for good reason, it’s an emotional powerhouse that remains with you long after you leave the cinema. The filmmakers are poised to sweep big time with this and that bodes well for the films director, the long overdue for big time success, Kenneth Lonergan. Maybe he’ll get to do more gems like this.

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