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‘Manchester by the Sea’ gracefully portrays grief

photo reproduced by permission of Amazon Studios

Maria Eberhart, Staff writer

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Take tissue, Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” paints a stark portrait of grief. But go anyway. Casey Affleck’s phenomenal performance will likely win him best actor and ranks among some of this year’s best.
A cinematic masterpiece, the film has garnered an Oscar nomination for best picture in its painstakingly intimate dissection of Lee Chandler’s period of prolonged despair. An exceptional performance by Affleck anchors the slow-pacing film. Affleck delivers a quietly brutal performance, embodying Lee almost to an alarming extent.
We first meet Lee living a reclusive existence as a Boston handyman whose pain radiates through his weary face. We can sense him suppressing an all-consuming private misery through his every sluggish movement exhibited in his daily routine of unclogging toilets and shoveling snow.
The death of Lee’s beloved brother, Joe, summons him back to his seaside hometown of Manchester, Mass. Joe’s will designates Lee as the guardian of his nephew Patrick, played breakout star Lucas Hedges.
Lonergan interjects a succession of flashbacks of happier times to unveil the source of Lee’s constant grief. Often a screenwriter’s crutch, the flashbacks are not seamlessly woven into the main drama, rather appearing abruptly as if bursting out of Lee’s memory, injecting life into the frequently overused film technique.
Lee does not make a great comeback in the final scenes to rejoin the tight-knit community, ultimately failing to leave the baggage of his tragic past behind for a new life of guardianship. Some may consider this excessively bleak: movies should be about overcoming adversity and escaping the struggles of real life for a few hours, but what makes “Manchester by the Sea” such a compelling drama is its roots in reality. People don’t always overcome grief, they grow numb to it—Lonergan captures this with profound eloquence, and could easily snag him a win for best picture.
“Manchester by the Sea” is on Amazon video and iTunes and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 21.

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