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  • Jared Huizenga

'Manchester by the Sea' is as Beautiful as it is Heartbreaking

No matter how good you think a movie looks, no matter the number of good things you've heard or read, it's a difficult proposition to sit down and watch it when you know in advance that the joyful moments are going to be few and far between.

One such film, and one that lives up to its gloomy premise, is “Manchester by the Sea.”

Lee (Casey Affleck) is an apartment complex handyman in Boston. He spends his days removing clogs from toilets, painting walls and dealing with angry residents. His nights are spent watching sports and drinking excessively.

After a particularly rough day (and night), Lee gets word that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has had a heart attack and is in the hospital. The hospital is nothing new for the family, as Joe's long-term health issues have had them there on and off for years. This time, however, Joe is unable to recover and by the time Lee gets to the hospital, he has already died.

It is now up to Lee to let Joe's teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) know about his father's passing, as well as plan funeral arrangements, get all of Joe's business affairs in order and return to Manchester – a city that houses a lot of painful memories for the family.

While dealing with those affairs, including deciding what is best for Patrick, Lee must also deal with ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), Joe's trainwreck ex-wife, and a town that's not quite ready to let him forget about the past.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has deftly crafted a bare bones, emotional, tragic tale that finds its way deep into you and pulls at each and every heart string along the way. You know it's coming, you can always see something coming, and because the story and the performances are so raw and real, that it still gets you.

As much as that can be credited to Lonergan, even more credit must be given to the cast. All of these characters – especially Lee – are flawed and have unlikable qualities, but there's something about them that makes you want things to finally turn around for them.

At times, Affleck has shown plenty of promise, but this unexpectedly strong performance fulfills that promise and takes it up another notch. His portrayal of the highly damaged, highly combustible and highly misunderstood Lee is easily one of the finest performances of the year and is the type that defines a career. Lee's story is a tragic one, and Affleck brings that to life.

The same can be said for Williams, who brings the equally damaged Randi to life. Her ongoing love for Lee and her internal conflict with those feelings, given their shared pasts and separate presents, is heartbreaking. And Williams makes you feel every last moment of it.

Oscar nominations for both – Best Actor for Affleck and Best Supporting Actress for Williams – are virtual locks. Or at least they should be.

Speaking of locks, “Manchester by the Sea” will be a Best Picture nominee and Lonergan will also be in the discussion. The story is tragic throughout, but it jumps off the screen and draws you in, whether you want it to or not.

★★★★ of ★★★★★


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