Manchester by the sea

Manchester by the sea is a drama. It is a non-stop, start to finish tragedy. It is an actor’s film, where they can really flex their dramatic muscle and shine. You watch it, appreciate the performance that you are allowed to witness and then you thank God that the movie is over and that you do not have to watch it again. In a strange way it will make you feel better about yourself, because no matter how bad you are doing right now, you are still better off than the characters in this movie.

Lee is a custodian and leads a simple and desolate life. He is not happy and by the looks of it he doesn’t wants to be happy either. For some reason, he has chosen himself corner to stay in and he is sticking to it. He is just going through the motions, day by day, trying to avoid any distractions as much as possible. And then his brother dies…

Lee is forced to take a break from his routine and to return home where he has to deal not only with the loss of his brother, but with his teenage nephew as well, not to mention the ghosts of his own past. To make things worse, his nephew is a total asshole. The kid is self-absorbed, rash, has hockey practice, basketball practice, band practice, 2 girlfriends and cannot possible comprehend that life is not about him and his needs.

The movie is fairly long as it is, over 2 hours but given its pace and subject matter, it might seem a lot longer than that. To be honest, I cannot think of anything that important that could not be edited to make this movie shorter and it is my opinion that a 100-110 minutes’ runtime would have been much better than the actual runtime of 137 minutes. Most of time is used to show the interaction between Lee and his nephew, which, except for a couple of brief moments of actual communication, is mostly shouting and mutual indifference. This part definitely could have been a lot shorter. Another big part of the time is used up by flashbacks that presents Lees backstory, why he is such a tragic character and why his brother was so important. This part actually works as it is much more relevant to the overall story than all that garnish we are presented in present time. Also, Kyle Chandler gives an excellent performance despite the small material he is given. I dare to say that he is the best part of the movie. The remaining of the movie is filled up with Lees interaction with other characters, or by some scenes where his nephew is the protagonist, since him too has a small story arc, also tragic. Most of these scenes are only there to move the story along, conversation in the hospital, conversation at the funeral house, conversation with the lawyer about the will…. Elements that you would expect in a story like this but they are rather 2 dimensional, with no depth whatsoever and I cannot decide if this is a flaw in the script or if it is deliberate approach, to highlight just how superficial and empty our day by day interactions with each other really are and to provide just one more reason for Lee to choose a self-imposed exile from society. There is a particular scene which makes me think of this, where, during the wake, Lee is asked by his friend if he had anything to eat that day and then proceeds automatically to ask his wife to bring him some food. Naturally, the wife is on the other side of a packed room and the 2 cannot carry an intelligible conversation with each other so after like 2 minutes of shouting nothing really happens, which is kind of what Lee wants, nothing. There is one very important exchange of words towards the end of the movie, between Lee and his ex-wife, which is really important and the delivery of which made by Michelle Williams was highly appreciated, earning her an academy award nomination. It is a short scene, but with a big punch. Casey Affleck brings a solid performance as Lee in a “less is more” fashion, which in this case fits like a glove. He did get the Oscar for this role, so he definitely got it right. I have yet to see all the nominated performances to give a verdict if the academy got it right, but so far I agree with this decision.

There really isn’t much more to say about this movie without spoiling some of its plot points. It is a good movie, but difficult to sit through and most likely, you will not revisit it, ever… It is a movie that exists firstly for the actors and not the audience, and while I can and do appreciate its value in an objective fashion, I do wonder, was it necessary to make it?

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