Monday, November 28, 2016

Kenneth Lonergan's latest amazement -- MANCHESTER BY THE SEA -- hits Florida

With his three films so far, playwright and filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan has managed to score a double (You Can Count on Me), a home run, (Margaret) and now a triple/near homer with his latest feat, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. It is so rare in American filmmaking for an artist to take the tragic view of life and serve it up in a manner that is as real as it is non-melodramatic. But that is what Mr. Lonergan, pictured below, has accomplished here.

By "tragic view of life," TrustMovies does not mean that the filmmaker has given us anything like the old-fashioned tragic hero out of classical literature: the-great-man-brought-down-by-hubris etc. Still, there is no getting around the fact that Lonergan's view of  the lives of us humans is seen through the tragic lens -- from the inevitable end that awaits us all to the particulars of the lives lived beforehand.

Our protagonist, played with a strange and riveting combination of anger, strength and humility by a never-better Casey Affleck (shown below), as well as the characters who surround him, are all living with the pain and stigma of a muddled-yet-still-striving life. And for all the darkness here, what makes the film so fulfilling and wonderful is how much life and joy, humor and depth the filmmaker is able to bring to the proceedings. As an all-over experience, Manchester by the Sea is as rich and it is riveting.

Lonergan tosses us into the middle of things, flashing back and forth in time often. But thanks to the specificity of all the performances, large or small, we never lose our track, and as the film moves along, we become ever more attuned to its characters and their dilemmas.

Mr. Affleck plays Lee, a handyman formerly married to and now divorced from Randi (Michelle Williams, above), and brother to Joe (Kyle Chandler, below, left) and uncle to Joe's son Patrick (played in the younger version by Ben O'Brien, and in the older by Lucas Hedges, the latter shown two photos below, right). We also meet Joe's addiction-prone wife (a fine Gretchen Mol) and, briefly, the fellow she ends up with (Matthew Broderick). You could not ask for better performances from any of these actors.

Midway through the movie,we learn of the event that has turned Lee's world (and that of those around him) upside down, and it is such a life-changing thing that it has created a division in our main character: a kind of "before" and "after." But so gracefully has Lonergan unfurled his tale that we always know where we are and which Lee we're looking at, even as we come to fully understand who this man now is and how he arrived here. Though this singular event is accidental, it could easily have been prevented, and this is the thing that haunts our hero.

Back to that tragic view: Despite the awfulness of what has happened, and what this has done to Lee, Lonergan's film is full of spirit and specificity, humor and charm. All this goes a long way in making Manchester by the Sea such a splendid experience, even if it leaves us, finally, grounded and more than a little thoughtful concerning life and its sorrows. This is surely one of this year's best movies.

From Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions and running a long but vivid 137 minutes, the film  -- which opened in New York and Los Angeles two weeks previous and is opening nationwide now and in the weeks to come -- hits South Florida this Friday, December 2 in nine locations, with further Florida openings the following Friday, December 9. Wherever you are, to find your nearest theater, simply click here.

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