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FILM REVIEW: Manchester By The Sea

I often find it incredible how apparently relatively simple stories of everyday folk and their lives can have such depth and underlying meaning.

In many ways, Manchester By The Sea (MBTS), is one such story.

Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, brother of Joe (Kyle Chandler), a fisherman from Manchester, Massachusetts – the town in which the brothers had grown up – whose sudden death from a pre-existing heart condition has left his brother Lee in a predicament. Whilst attempting to sort out arrangements for the funeral, and his brother’s estate and general affairs, he’s shocked to discover that according to his brother’s will, he is to become the legal guardian of his son, Patrick (played by the younger, Ben O’Brien, and more prominently at the age of sixteen, by Lucas Hedges).

This is unwelcome news for Lee, who, whilst having great affection for, and a strong bond with his late brother’s son, feels that he is wholly incapable of performing such a role.

For Lee is a deeply troubled and broken man. A janitor, living alone in a his Boston bedsit, going through the motions of life and doing whatever it is that he needs to do each day in order to forget his past. It’s a past that has rendered him aloof, incommunicative and somewhat volatile; a shell of the man he once was.

MBTS slowly recounts Lee’s story by way of a series of flashbacks interwoven with the present, revealing in the process his not inconsiderable hurt and sufferance. It’s a piece in which his character is very gradually exposed by way of what are at times painfully-stunted interactions with friends, family and strangers.

Lee’s sudden return to the town of his birth comes as an unexpected surprise to those who had once known him or indeed known of him, and is the catalyst for much consternation, voiced in that typically small town fashion – through secretive whispers or mumbled disapproval. It seems that a dark cloud of infamy now follows Lee wherever he goes.

Michelle Williams, is predictably wonderful as Lee’s heart-broken ex-wife, Randi, but it’s Affleck who steals the show, brilliantly portraying a man whose past clearly continues to haunt his present, displaying extremes of awkward, self-imposed introversion only to counter them with sudden bursts of predominantly alcohol-fuelled aggression, lashing out indiscriminately as some kind of emotional release or coping strategy.

MBTS is a very nuanced piece; at once tragic, emotional, heart-felt and cathartic, full of subtle detail and refreshingly real dialogue. It’s also a piece positively teeming with memorable scenes, some of the most poignant of which are brought to life – to extraordinarily emotional and powerful effect it should be noted – through the use of largely dialogue-free orchestral montages, played out to the strains of George Frederick Handel, and the like.

Affleck’s affecting performance will no doubt engrain itself in your head, whilst it’s a safe bet to suggest that the film, by way of its subtle, considered approach to what is at times particularly weighty subject matter, will entrench itself firmly in your heart.

Director Kenneth Lonergan has created a wonderfully honest observational piece that’s not afraid to admit that there isn’t always a solution to everything, and that sometimes the best we can hope for is just to learn how to cope with our past, no matter how unfair or traumatic it may well have been for us. Sometimes just accepting who we are and what we’ve become, can be victory enough.

Justifiably spoken of as an awards contender, Manchester By The Sea is an instant classic.



There seems to have always been a degree of prudishness in the United States when it comes to anything sex or sexuality related. That may well be rich coming from an Englishman, but the juxtaposition between the apparent blanket acceptance of gun wielding patriots and the often vociferous disapproval by many of ‘love’ expressed in any way other than through a conventional, heterosexual union, is both stark and prominent.

Mid-century America seems as glaring an example of this as any relatively recent moment in time.

Carol is the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt,telling the story of a young lady, Therese, discovering her sexual identity, and Carol, a woman remaining stoic through the breakdown of her marriage and a subsequent messy divorce.

Right from the off, by way of Therese and Carol’s shared fascination with a  model train set on display in the department store in which Therese works – something perhaps that would be considered traditionally the domain  of young boys or men – we are made aware that both ladies are in some way ‘different’ from the then accepted norm.

Their initial introduction to one another through Carol’s purchase of the aforementioned train set as a present for her young daughter, is developed still further by way of a fateful occurrence when Carol leaves one of her gloves behind in the store. Therese’s good natured deed in posting the glove back to its owner begins a friendship, which quickly develops,  underpinned by latent sexual desire. The simmering passion lurking beneath the surface can ultimately only be contained for so long.

As with all good romantic sagas, something inevitably arises to threaten the course of true love and happiness. Carol’s attempts to reach an amicable divorce settlement, particularly with regard to custody of her young daughter, are thrown into disarray when her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), discovers Carol’s secret and threatens to deny her any form of custody whatsoever.

A woman such as Carol, aware that this is 1950s America, holds none of the aces and faces a battle for custody that she simply cannot win with things as they stand.

Tough choices therefore lie ahead for both her and Therese…

Director Todd Haynes has certainly brought out excellent performances from the Audrey Hepburn-esque Rooney Mara as Therese, but particularly from the here, aloof and rather unapproachable Cate Blanchett in the lead role, producing arguably her career-best work to date.

Shot on 16mm film through a near constant haze of many a provocatively puffed upon cigarette, there is a grainy, soft-focused effect at play, adding significantly to the film’s heavily-stylised and somewhat beautiful mystique.

Carol is a well paced, evocative study of sexual awakenings, forbidden love and longing in the face of adversity, but equally, a tale of men’s frustrations, bordering on exasperation, when they perceive that they have been in some way ‘wronged’.

There is sometimes no telling the lengths that a man might go to under such circumstances.

Underpinned by a strong Carter Burwell score, Carol is award-worthy stuff on many levels – make no mistake.