100% “Note Perfect” – Masterful Stuff!
This is masterful stuff, and there wasn’t a single minute in the 2 hours and 17 minutes running time when I so much as glanced at my smartphone, let alone picked it up and scrolled – as is my want…
Casey Affleck plays Lee, the younger brother of Joe, who lives with his son, Patrick, (Lee’s nephew) in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a small picturesque coastal town in Massachusetts. Lee lives in a single room, 45 minutes’ drive away, where he works as an apartment handyman.
We soon realize that Lee is not exactly your run of the mill handyman. While he knows his job pretty well, he is surly, rude and prickly to the tenants, prompting one woman to complain about him. Later, he is rude to another woman who tries to befriend him in a bar and after that, in the same bar, he becomes violent with two men who he thinks are talking about him.
So we get the message – our friend Lee is a troubled man.
Then Lee gets a call from home – his brother’s doctor is calling from Manchester – Joe is in hospital and it’s very serious.
Joe has died by the time Lee arrives, and after viewing the body, Lee drives to the local school to break the news of his brother’s death to Joe’s somewhat obnoxious teenage son. The two of them drive home. It is all very low key, with little – if any – emotion displayed on either side.
Patrick also behaves as if nothing has happened. He just wants to continue his rebellious teen-life with his two girlfriends and practice playing in a heavy metal band. His uncle remains taciturn and non-communicative.
By now, we are bursting to understand exactly what “gives” with this family.
Joe’s will is read. He has left his property to his son but has appointed Lee as Patrick’s guardian, with the house and property to be held in trust by Lee until Patrick is of age.
Lee is furious and tells the lawyer he cannot take on the role. Patrick is also none too impressed by this turn of events and the two of them quickly develop a love /hate – more hate than love – relationship, as they both are obliged to come to terms with the reality of the situation.
Through a series of flashbacks, we start to put this puzzling jigsaw together.
The heart of this drama is a terrible tragedy. After a drunken party at home with friends, Lee forgot to put a fireguard in the fireplace when he went out to buy some beer in the middle of the night. He returned home to find his house engulfed in flames.
His wife, Randi, who was sleeping downstairs, was saved, but his three children, who were upstairs, all perished.
Lee went to the police station to explain what happened and he grabbed a gun and tried to kill himself, but the cops, aided by Joe brother and his father prevented another tragedy.
We now completely understand why Lee is so troubled. Everyone blames him for his children’s deaths – including his wife who leaves him – but nobody blames Lee more than Lee himself.
There is much more that happens in this bittersweet melodrama.
Poor dead Joe has to be kept in a freezer until spring as the ground is too frozen to dig a grave.
Lee and Patrick have a very hard time of it with each other, with Patrick rebelling at every turn and Lee desperately trying to do the right thing, but he is woefully ill equipped for such a difficult task.
A woman sets her cap at Lee until she finds she has more chance of charming a sheep than getting a rise out of the embittered protagonist.
And it keeps on coming…
There’s the boat…
…and Lee’s chance street encounter with his ex-wife, Randi, who has now remarried with a new baby. This becomes one of the most heart- rending moments into the whole film, as Randi tells him she deeply regrets leaving him and it is clear that she still loves him.
Lee goes to a bar to drown his sorrows. He soon picks a fight and the entire occupants of the bar gang up on him and he is very badly beaten. Rescued by a family friend, he is taken to their home, when he finally breaks down and cries.
The tale continues, and it eventually reaches a satisfactory conclusion – of sorts
If I was unkind, I could describe “Manchester” as a very high-class soap, But this film is so much more than a soap. It is a raw, totally believable drama that cuts right through a slice of life in small town America, pop. 5136.
If you enjoy watching family dramas, I promise you that you will never get bored with this film with its strange, poignant narrative and superlative acting throughout.
Would the film have been as good without the incredible performance by Casey Affleck in the lead role? I’m not really sure, but there is no doubt that he fits the part like a glove.
Those who say he acted the part badly haven’t the foggiest notion of what they are talking about. Yes, he is that good! Not for him, the shouting and histrionics – Affleck is so effective with his understated and brilliant portrayal of a man who has basically lost the will to live. Whenever he is on screen, your eyes are riveted to that tortured soul.
This movie is “note perfect” – writing, acting, directing – and I hope that it wins some major Oscars, although I somehow doubt it.
Five Mobi-Stars out of five for Manchester by the Sea.
You can find all my film reviews here: Mobi’s movie reviews on IMDB