The LAMB Devours The Oscars 2017: Best Picture Nominee: Manchester By The Sea

by Jay Cluitt · February 6, 2017 · Featured, LAMB Devours the Oscars · 3 Comments

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

For today’s post, Howard from Rantings and Ravings discusses his thoughts on another Best Picture nominee, Manchester By The Sea:

The basic premise of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s new film Manchester by the Sea revolves around Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a janitor living in Boston who is very good at his job, but is a loner with a somewhat self-destructive personality. When he receives word that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died, he returns to his home city of Manchester by the Sea, a fishing and tourist town.

There he is shocked to discover that his brother in his will has requested that Lee become guardian to Joe’s sixteen year old son, Patrick. Joe has provided for Patrick’s expenses in his will and just needs Lee to return to Manchester to live. Why Lee can’t return and the conflicts over how to handle this request make up the bulk of the movie. And much of the heart breaking suspense is waiting to find out what happened that led to Lee’s present day situation. All you know is that it has something to do with his three children since they are only shown in flashback. The waiting is painfully unbearable at times.

The idea for Manchester began with Matt Damon who asked Lonergan to write the screenplay for Damon to star in and direct. When Damon became too involved in The Martian (you know, that laugh a minute film that won Best Comedy at the Golden Globes), it was decided that Lonergan should direct. And then Affleck came on board to play Lee.

Now it is one of the nine Best Picture nominees for the Academy Award. It has five Oscar nominations besides picture: Actor for Affleck, Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges as Patrick, Best Supporting Actress for Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife, and Direction and Original Screenplay for Lonergan. Though it is not expected to win Best Picture, of the nine, it is probably the one that should (La La Land is the one to beat for top honors here).

Manchester by the Sea is a beautiful and deeply moving story. Most of this must be laid at the feet of the screenplay by Lonergan, a tragically poetic work that ends its story true to his characters and doesn’t try to play feel good. Redemption is not as easy to achieve as many may think and sometimes things happen that are simply too awful to forget and forgive (or as Lee says in his final, painful, tear-filled words, “I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it”).

There are a few moments where it almost feels as if Lonergan might be losing control of the story a bit in the final third (something he ultimately did in his second film as director, Margaret, a movie that was very intriguing until it fell apart). But in the end, he regains control and finishes with a heartbreaking finale. Lomergan is expected to win Best Original Screenplay. Though this category is one of the strongest in some time, it’s only real competition is La La Land, the weakest nominee of the five.

Besides the delicate and powerful screenplay, much of the success of the film must be laid at Affleck’s feet. Affleck is an improbable lead actor. With his raspy, falsettoed voice (much, much more so than the marvellous character actor of film noirs Dan Duryea), he should have been relegated to supporting roles. But he has somehow managed to not just let this voice not be a hindrance, he has actually used it to his advantage, delivering unforgettable turns in such films as Gone, Baby, Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and perhaps his greatest performance to date, the psychotic deputy in The Killer Inside Me.

And here he delivers a rich and empathetic portrait of a soul who can’t ultimately forgive himself. He has a shocking scene in the police station after he realizes that the authorities aren’t going to prosecute him for what he did. Something so shocking we are almost immediately willing to forgive, even if he never can.

Affleck is the one to beat for lead actor at the Academy Awards. He won the Golden Globe and has been a critics’ darling with awards from The National Society of Film Critics and The New York Film Critics (he came in second after Adam Driver in Paterson for The Los Angeles Film Critics). However, a surprise win by Denzel Washington at the SAGs may have put his ultimate victory in jeopardy. Some think his scandalous past may finally be caching up to him. The award to watch now are the BAFTAS; that might help clarify things.

After this comes the remarkable performance by relative newcomer Lucas Hedges. The two actors have a thrilling rapport and work off each other with amazing grace. And Lucas has some of the best lines as he constantly surprises his uncle with revelations about his personal life, at one time listing the reasons why he can’t leave home (including two girlfriends, a situation he asks his uncle not to blow since the two don’t know they are being two-timed).

Also in the film are Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex, who has a powerful scene toward the end of the story; Gretchen Moll as Joe’s ex, Elise; Matthew Broderick as Elise’s new devout husband; C.J. Wilson as a family friend who turns down Lee’s suggestion of adopting Lucas because he and his wife are actually trying to get rid of a few kids as it is; and Kenneth Lonergan himself as a Manchester pedestrian.

What did you think of Manchester By The Sea?

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