Martin Carter reports back from the Toronto International Film Festival 5
Posted 16 September 2016
The synopsis for Manchester By The Sea does not bode well: ' A man must return to his hometown when his older brother dies suddenly. His return means confronting the tragic events that caused him to leave...." Nothing new there then. However, in the hands of writer/ director Kenneth Lonergan the film is a sharp, funny and insightful piece of blue collar drama. Lonergan is the unsung hero of contemporary American cinema weaving the everyday lives of ordinary people into epic and moving fables. This is only his third feature; his first, You Can Count On Me (2000) told the tale of two middle aged siblings coming to terms with the disappointment of their lives; his next film, Margaret (2011) spent years in litigation due to Lonergan's failure to deliver a cut acceptable to the studio and now we have this, his third feature, that should hopefully at last put him firmly in the public eye and finally give him his due.
Lonergan's characters never conform to stereotype, mostly due to them being like real people; flawed, inconsistent and unreliable. The protagonist in this film is Lee (Casey Affleck) who works anonymously as a janitor and handyman in Boston, far enough away from the coastal town of Manchester and a past he cannot forget. However, the return to his hometown goes very differently to how we might expect, the film is full of witty and pithy dialogue that sometimes also literally packs a punch. Affleck has been quietly making a niche for himself as an edgy mumblecore regular but here he breaks out of that persona. His character could have been a whiny victim in need of our pity but he never seeks this and Lee is a complex man who deals with the world by shutting off any closeness with others. In fact, all the film's characters subvert our preconceptions; nobody is all good or bad, everyone has their bad side, even those we might want to identify with.
Shot against chilly winter Massachusetts coastal locations, Manchester By The Sea is a complete triumph that boasts a collection of outstanding performances along with the obligatory cameo from Lonergan regular Matthew Broderick. Lonergan's films have the ability to elicit huge emotions and I went prepared with a pack of tissues expecting to be wazzing tears and for two hours I was moved and entertained by this marvellous film but dry-eyed...and then the last ten minutes broke my heart.
Don't waste the months awaiting the film's release, track down his two previous movies and be ready for this great great movie.