Casey Affleck’s spectacular performance is this film earned him a Golden Globe on Sunday, and should end any further speculation as to which Affleck brother has the best acting chops. Sorry, Batman. Chatter from the Left Coast early last year told us film critics to expect a particularly stunning job from the younger Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea”. More times than not, these self-pronounced premerits of greatness by studio execs only translates into hyperbole and unmet expectations in the end. That’s not the case in this movie about grief and family relationships.
Carrying significant guilt and apprehensive upon his shoulders, Affleck’s divorced Lee Chandler character returns to his hometown of Manchester after the death of his brother, Joe. Complicating matters for the blue-collar repairman is Lee’s startling reintroduction to his now teenage nephew, Patrick, and his first contact in years with an ex-wife (played by Michelle Williams).
“Manchester by the Sea” is a slow storyline reveal that works by tossing in timely flashbacks of a better time and life for Affleck’s handyman Lee. As guardianship issues for his nephew must be legally worked out, Uncle Lee’s uncomfortableness returning to Manchester swings constantly between heartache and remorse.
Equally entertaining is the job Lucas Hedges does portraying the role of the now fatherless Patrick. Together, Affleck and Hedges create a tension-filled relationship as neither wants to have their life completely upended because of the sudden death of their loved one.
The movie does a lot right. It somehow makes a slow plot reveal work without losing viewers, mostly due to its believable acting and a mysterious storytelling rollout. The film poignantly explains the extended family dynamics and its unimaginable past, delving deeper into Casey’s relationships with not only his nephew, but others. It even injects a grown-up Ferris Bueller, aka Matthew Broderick, into a small scene.
This realistic and exceptionally well-acted endeavor, though, has a few glaring problems. Joining an irritable rash of late 2016 films like “Moonlight” and “Nocturnal Animals”, this northeast narrative sports an interesting beginning only to culminate in an unremarkable and bland ending. When it’s all over and done, a memorable “Manchester by the Sea” journey by moviegoers never fully materializes. Casey Affleck’s character lets down his brother, and, ultimately us with a timid, lackluster finale.
With both Affleck and Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) earning Golden Globe awards for Best Actor (in the Drama and Comedy or Musical categories, respectively), I’m keeping the crooner and pianist Gosling as the heavy Oscar favorite next month.
“Manchester by the Sea” is rated R for language throughout and some sexual content. Its running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.