Manchester by the Sea (5 stars)

Manchester by the Sea

LFF 2016: A family are rocked by tragedy in Kenneth Lonergan's masterful, multi-faceted drama

In pleasing contrast to his superstar, superhero brother Ben, Casey Affleck has doggedly cultivated a discreetly impressive career, often assuming the guise of the quiet man. Manchester by the Sea sees him do just that as he teams up with Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret), a writer-director who suits Affleck Junior to a T with his blend of high drama, quirky characterisations and incidental detail.

As ever with Lonergan he gives the humdrum an infusion of grandeur, introducing us to two contrasting incarnations of Lee Chandler (Affleck), separated by about a decade and an initially mysterious, earth-shattering event. There's the carefree small-town character who teases his young nephew at the outset and whose life is a little chaotic but enviably full, and the lonely handyman working in Boston who swings from near-comedic detachment to aggressive outbursts and bar-room brawls. When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away, Lee is tasked with the guardianship of Joe's now-teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and reluctantly returns to his former home to make the necessary arrangements.

This unshowy but relentlessly riveting film is rich with character and anchored by Affleck's soulful, heartbreaking turn as a man hollowed-out by tragedy. The revelation, when it comes at the midway point, rips through proceedings like a tornado, saturating all that follows with sadness. But, after rocking us to the core, Manchester by the Sea re-finds its rhythm in the bickering and borderline farce of Lee's tumultuous relationship with his newly acquired charge, who also happens to be an unlikely lothario, placing benign humour and catastrophic loss side by side in a way that's masterfully managed and entirely consistent with life. It is a film that emphatically deserves to be in the mix come awards-time, from a director who knows that you don't need fast-paced action, or expensive tricks to conjure truly spectacular cinema.

Screening on Sat 8, Sun 9 and Tue 11 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2016. General release from 13 Jan.

Manchester by the Sea

  • 5 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 2h 15min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
  • Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol
  • UK release: 13 January 2016

Lee (Affleck) is a carefree small-town guy who, when his brother dies, is given the job of raising his nephew (Hedges). A masterful blend of high drama, quirky characterisations and incidental detail, with a soulful, heartbreaking turn by Affleck at its core.