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A Film Diary

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Rewatched: 11 November

Some brief thoughts I had after first seeing Manchester By The Sea last January:

This awards season contender from Kenneth Lonergan is a strong, intelligent and superbly-acted drama; it may lose out to more eye-catching films in certain categories, but the excellent work by star Casey Affleck may well be rewarded with a slew of bright, shiny gongs during the next few weeks (though I can’t really say whether it’ll be deserved if that does end up being the case, as I’ve yet to see some of the other performances that have been talked-up of late, or nominated). Anyway, leaving such chitter-chatter aside, I will simply say that Affleck is excellent here as a grieving, troubled (and alcoholic?) Boston janitor who must return to the titular Massachusetts hometown in the wake of his older brother’s death, ostensibly to look after his 16-year-old nephew (Lucas Hedges, also impressing). However, returning home means that he also has to address a previous, devestating tragedy, involving his ex-wife (a small supporting part played with typical skill by Michelle Williams).

I think it’s relevant to point out that Affleck’s own father was an alcoholic who worked as a carpenter, janitor and mechanic, among other jobs, so on top of dealing with the inherent, excruciating sadness of Lonergan’s screenplay there is an extra, personal dimension that has presumably informed the actor’s performance. The film deals with grief in an intelligent fashion, refusing to bend to convention by offering a silver lining or some sort of redemption for its characters at the end of a tough and chilly-looking two hours (it’s snowy and cold in a number of flashbacks, as well as the scenes set in the present day). It’s also filled with interesting characters who have been written with nuance by someone who understands people (as opposed to someone who just knows how to write people in movies) — there are contradictions in terms of the behaviour of nearly everyone in this story, whether they’re going through periods of intense change in their lives or have recently been through them and are still struggling to adapt on the other side, and Lonergan has rendered all of them believable, whether they are central to the story or drop out of it for long periods. It’s a film with a heavy heart, but there are alleviating laughs to be found, as well as strong editing by Jennifer Lame, which manages to fuse the daydreamed reminiscences with the present very well indeed. Excellent. (*****)

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  1. December 12, 2017

    This one we definitely agree on, bud. I thought this was marvellous. I’d say out of all the films of last year that this was the best picture. My favourite was Captain Fantastic but this was the one I’d have chosen from those nominated. Affleck was outstanding (as was Michelle Williams).

    • Stu #
      December 14, 2017

      This is another of my favourites from this year – really good performances all round, particularly Affleck as you say. I thought Lucas Hedges was very good, too. Lonergan is a really good filmmaker.

  2. December 14, 2017

    Oh boy, this is a heavyweight picture. That line towards the end “I can’t beat it” broke my heart. Surprising amount of humour too.

    • Stu #
      December 19, 2017

      Yeah, really emotionally hard-hitting isn’t it? In particular when you find out about the incident that everyone’s whispering about, and the subsequent scene in the police station – incredible acting by Affleck there.

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