We meet “Lee Chandler” Casey Affleck as he teases his young nephew “Patrick” on his brothers fishing boat. The vessel putters along in a cold sea just off Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts USA, the family seem happy.
The film moves between different timelines, we learn Lee’s brother “Joe” Kyle Chandler is ill with a heart condition, his wife is not as mentally stable as the family would like.
Lee is a janitor in Boston, looking after four buildings, he sorts problems out for tenants and accepts the menial job and daily slights, both good and bad with equanimity. Well usually, until an event causes this facade to slip.
As the film progresses we learn Lee is a drowning man, how and why is not revealed until later. Will he ever be able to reach the surface again is the subtext of the film. Clearly his brother believes he could, which provides the catalyst to bring him home to Manchester again.
This is a study in grief and guilt, whether someone can ever truly recover even when opportunity or just plain need presents itself. Lee’s nephew Patrick Lucas Hedges is now sixteen years old with two girlfriends and a full social life and needs his help.
To reveal more would spoil the slow reveal designed into the film but a character study such as this requires strong actors. Casey Affleck, arguably the better actor than his famous brother is superb in a role which casts him as a largely unlikable character. Prickly, uncommunicative and ready for a fight wherever he has a drink inside of him. Hedges is also no slouch when acting against his more experienced co-stars, he has a lot to do and does it well.
Like the trawler used in many of the on water shots, the boat is open-ended at the stern which is possibly symbolic, as those looking for easy answers and tidy endings should look elsewhere.
Michelle Williams enters as a major character and as usual brings her acting talents to bear, with a very realistic portrayal of the difficult role assigned to her. C.J. Wilson also brings some gravitas and sympathy to a supporting role.
Whilst hardly a “feel good” movie, there are elements of humour yet underlying darkness lies just below the surface, these are characters hurting, attempting to heal but some wounds are just too deep.
Occasionally emotionally harrowing and certainly not a date movie, there is some great acting on display. Director/writer Kenneth Lonergan provides a realistic final act that does not take the easy path.
There is a lot of swearing in the movie, some entirely justified but on occasion really dragging the story down, less would definitely be more in this context.
A well acted character study that goes much deeper than the trailer might suggest. Casey proves again his potential to be more famous than his better known sibling.