A FILM ONLY LIBERALS COULD LOVE
Film Review by Fiore
Director and Scriptwriter Kenneth Lonergan begins his film, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, with entertaining and aspiring techniques. It begins with a video montage of a scenic New England cove and harbor with crisp, clean images provided by Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes. The movie immediately shifts to dialogue sequences, used to establish key characters. During these scenes, which take place in homes and work establishments, the characters’ dialogue is in audio competition with a radio. At first, it appears the audio mix by Kevin Parker is amateurish; but soon it is apparent the reports from the radio are establishing the background for the characters and the story. When necessary, the radio reports are louder to accent key elements of the forthcoming plotline. It’s good stuff, but then both techniques stop and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA spirals into an insipid, depressing snippet of gloom. This is what the condescending critics in the two letter cities call “a masterpiece”; and what the rest of us call a waste of two hours.
Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler. He is a janitor and handy-man for an apartment complex in Boston, who does not suffer fools lightly. He is brooding and dark, due to a tragic event in his past that claimed the lives of his children and disintegrated his marriage to Randi Chandler, played by Michelle Williams. Lee’s world is turned upside down with the unexpected death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler. As part of his will, Joe appoints Lee as guardian of his teenage son, Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Lee, living the life of a martyr for his past, is now saddled with a vibrant young man enveloped in the joys of life.
KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE PING PONG GAME
2. STALE CONVERSATION
Lesley Barber provides a somber score, but relies heavily on non-original classical tunes to compliment the soundtrack. One of the key scenes combines the visual elements with the music of Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio Per Archi e Organo in Sol Minore, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This music, which is used in other films, is dark and disheartening. The film this music was used most effectively was in James Caan's version of ROLLERBALL, where it was coupled along with excerpts from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. The morose melodies were used in a collision montage, enhancing their effectiveness.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is garnering accolades for the cast. It is unnecessary. Affleck is already established as a premiere Indie film actor, much as Ryan Gosling was earlier in his career. Always be suspicious when a film’s claim to fame is the acting. Generally, it implies the story is lame and only the thespian qualities of the stars, salvage a celluloid catastrophe.
Bruce Lee said, in ENTER THE DRAGON: “you could say mine is the art of fighting, without fighting.” MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a member of a myriad mass of movies that have an ending, without having an ending. Lee’s version is better. When the screen went black, I said, aloud: “Don’t tell me that’s the ending?!” It was; and that is unfortunate because it made all of the dragged-out storyline before it moot. Suspended conclusions can be effective: just re-watch John Carpenter’s THE THING for proof. But, more often than not, they serve as a cruel form of “talus interruptus” for the viewer, and such is the case here.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is being touted as a strong awards contender. It is the only film from Amazon Studios with a strong promotional push. This may account for the hype. Many Hollywood studios are peeved at Netflix, not only for producing its own programming, but for making its show and movies award winning quality. Amazon is challenging Netflix, and many Hollywood insiders would like to see Amazon take down Netflix a peg or two. It won’t do that with MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.
The film is over two hours of utter depression. There is nothing to enjoy and certainly nothing meriting a second view. The only people who could possibly revel in this film, are the progressive liberals who are still in shock and disbelief over the elections. In MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, they have something more depressing than their bashed political aspirations.
Two hours and twenty minutes of gloom and misery presented in anecdotal form, without a solid sequential story to salvage the melancholy; skip this one.
THE GRADE FOR MANCHESTER BY THE SEA = D