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Film review: Manchester by the Sea – Casey Affleck gives career-best performance

This heartbreaking tale of a man who becomes guardian to his teenage nephew, has six Oscar nominations and is full of emotional complexity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 2:00pm

4/5 stars

One of the year’s most feted films, Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to You Can Count on Me (2000) and Margaret (2011) arrives with six Oscar nominations and much love for leading actor Casey Affleck.

In truth, this tale set in a small Massachusetts coastal town is not full of grand sweeping gestures, dramatic encounters or cathartic breakthroughs; Lonergan, a playwright by trade, is much too accomplished for that. Adopting a jigsaw-like structure, as past memories impinge on the present, he layers his characters with an enviable emotional complexity.

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Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a taciturn Boston handyman who returns to the eponymous town of his earlier years when family tragedy strikes. His older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies suddenly of heart failure, and rather reluctantly he’s left as guardian to his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Gradually, Lonergan teases out details of Lee’s past, with flashbacks to his marriage with now ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), hinting at a devastating tragedy that tore the two apart.

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Affleck, in what is certainly the most mature performance of his career, reads like an open wound, pain engraved into his face and soul. With minimal screen time, Williams also impressively etches her character, a woman that has tried to stitch back together the fabric of her existence after a life-altering event.

One scene, where they encounter each other on the street, speaks volumes as they stammer their way through a broken conversation. Don’t expect any easy resolutions, though; even with chinks of light, Lonergan leaves you feeling heartbroken for these wounded souls.

Manchester by the Sea opens on February 23

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