By Adam Ray Palmer
The fourth review from this year's London Film Festival is Amazon Studios' family drama Manchester by the Sea.
The film is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges.
Family drama films seem to be dominating the first few days of LFF60, but how does this one rate?
After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is made the sole guardian of Joe's teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job as a janitor in Boston, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the fishing village where his working-class family has lived for generations. There, he is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and the community where he was born and raised.
Manchester by the Sea is an intriguing film on two levels. We have the narrative on one side which is an original and thought-provoking piece but we also have interesting characters that are delivered by such momentous performances. I can't recall a weak portrayal throughout the long run time of two hours and twenty minutes.
Casey Affleck is in the form of his life here. He's haunting and dark but also comedic. The shift in balance he provides when called upon in different scenes is expertly conveyed. The first half hour an hour depicts him as a loser and an unflattering person, but as we delve a little deeper, his character has so many more layers. This is a testament to his performance but also incredible writing.
Lucas Hedges also benefits from the triumphant script. His character is a little less explored than Affleck's but a teen is always more mysterious and hard to read - Lonergan recognises this with his script. Hedges and Affleck's chemistry is paramount in Manchester by the Sea and it's beautiful to watch. Their relationship does follow the formulaic method of starting edgy and ending friendly but it's the journey that Lonergan and the two leads nail.
I think Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler deserves honourable mentions too. The supporting roles here really help tell the whole story. The majority of Williams and Chandler's scenes are in flashbacks as we learn why the core protagonists are so emotionally scarred. The acting on display is majestic and could be in for Oscar contention.
Lonergan's shot-calling is also on point. He manipulates the camera to make the fishing town looks so small and claustrophobic, creating a stronger message of why Lee never wanted to return. Kenneth builds a world of how Manchester by the Sea haunts Lee but he must face his fears else he'll never be free.
The script is top drawer, even if it's a little lengthy. Although, with a film like this, you appreciate every little scene as it could be a potential gem with stellar acting or a great sarcastic line from Lee.
I was bowled over by the beauty of this film as I never expected it to be so touching. The majority of that is down to Casey and Kenneth but what a production on the whole. Affleck has well and truly put himself in award contention with Manchester by the Sea. Imagine a world where both the Affleck brothers are up for the 'Leading Male' category? It could happen in 2017 with Ben's The Accountant.
Don't miss this rough diamond.
Cineroom's Rating: 4.5 Stars
Manchester by the Sea is released on 13th January 2017 - certificate 1