Whether or not this is a direct consequence of living in Trump’s America, film-goers should rejoice at the recent spate of critically-acclaimed films that are eschewing escapist adolescent fare in favour of warts-and-all reality.
Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea is another such film that captures the savage beauty (and tragedy) of ordinary life as lived by ordinary people. But what certainly isn’t ordinary is the performance given by its star, Casey Affleck. In one of the most emotionally-devastating performances seen on the big screen in decades, Affleck minor takes audiences inside one man’s heart of darkness.
Playing a man who looks after his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies, Affleck is aided and abetted by a taut screenplay that never once slackens into sentimentality or opts for an easy out. The quandary Lee is in is that he is supposed to go back to his hometown Manchester-by-the-Sea but is hesitant to do so as he is tortured by memories of a house fire he accidentally set that resulted in the deaths of his own three young children.
Every scene rings with an emotional truth that is never less than true to life. It is an approach to storytelling that has been absent in American cinema for quite some time, perhaps not seen since the clamorous chamber pieces of John Cassavetes in the 1970s. But with its wintry colours and atmosphere, the film is more obviously connected to the work of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman, with whom it shares a restrained intensity.
For there is nothing flashy to be found here, no excess or explosions; just ordinary people struggling through life but ultimately realising the power of unity. Manchester By The Sea should serve as a reminder to Hollywood that the most compelling drama is often found outside the world of the computer screen, in the flesh and blood world where we all live. Chris Prindiville
‘Manchester By The Sea opens in cinemas nationally on February 2.