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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Audio: DTS 5.1 HD
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Lionsgate
Features: See Review
Length: 137 Minutes
Release Date: February 21, 2017

I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry.”

Film ****

We’ve seen many films about characters dealing with tragedies and finding the strength to carry on, but none have felt more potent, heartbreaking and all around real as Manchester By the Sea. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, who specializes in deep character pieces, and a most remarkable ensemble cast help to create an emotional powerhouse that is as true to life as any film can be. This is one case of a film totally deserving of all the critical acclaim it has received.

The story focuses on Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a hapless janitor working out of an apartment complex and serving the needs of residents he mostly can’t stand. His spare time mostly consists of hanging around bars and starting trouble with fellow patrons. He’s basically what Will Hunting would have ended up as had he completely given up on life...also minus the extreme intellect.

Soon Lee receives some heartbreaking news. His brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died from heart failure. And this tragedy ends up triggering memories of another tragic event from the past, as Lee is forced to return to his hometown of Manchester, which he swore never to return to again.

The story richly unfolds in flashbacks, which are done in unconventional form in that they are spur-of-the-moment that you aren’t quite sure what time frame you’re in until it cuts back to the present. This is a narrative device that could easily cheapen the dramatic value of a film if done wrong, but Lonergan only manages to enhance it in how he places the flashbacks at pivotal points in the story.

Along the way, we learn why Lee never wanted to set foot in Manchester again, and the reason ends up being devastating beyond words. It resulted in a divorce from his wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), as well as a suicide attempt. And all the while dealing with these painful memories, Lee is told that he is to be the sole guardian of his 16 year old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

It goes without saying that, given the circumstances of the earlier tragedy, Lee is far from willing to step into the role of a guardian. But he takes on the duty temporarily while going through funeral arrangements. Patrick is far more open with his emotions in dealing with the loss, and this juxtaposed with Lee being not openly emotional at all makes for one unique bond.

The performance from Casey Affleck is one for the history books. But what’s most remarkable about it is the fact that, for a drama of this magnitude, it’s a piece of acting that doesn’t consist of an extreme outpouring of emotion as you’d might expect. Instead, Affleck delivers what might be the best example to date of conveying so much by way of understated acting, which serves his “man of few words/emotions” so terrifically well.

The rest of the cast is equally remarkable. Michelle Williams, though only featured in a few scenes, reminds us why she is one of the strongest and best actresses of our generation. And newcomer Lucas Hedges is a true discovery, delivering a rare and nuanced performance that we’re used to seeing from someone his age.

Manchester By the Sea is without question one of the very best films of 2016, and is extremely deserving of all the immense critical acclaim and awards buzz it’s getting. Kenneth Lonergan once again establishes his place as a master of character based drama with his most masterful effort to date. It’s both an emotionally draining and richly rewarding viewing experience.

Video ****

The Blu-ray from Lionsgate boasts a tremendous video presentation. Making use of real Massachusetts locations, the superb picture quality enhances this authentic value to even greater effect. Colors are especially strong and natural from beginning to end. Several scenes set on a fishing boat at sea are particularly breathtaking to gaze upon.

Audio ***1/2

I wasn’t expecting this much from an indie drama such as this, but the DTS HD mix really does deliver. The dialogue delivery, which is first priority here, is excellently handled throughout the film. What lends even more sound power is the use of classic orchestral music numbers during the more intense dramatic moments. The sound mix also delivers strongly in the department of ambient sounds, lending an even more authentic touch to the setting.

Features **1/2

Included on this Lionsgate Blu-ray release is “A Conversation Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan”, which is actually a commentary track with the filmmaker and content producer Peter Ventrella, which is an intriguing and very detailed listen. There’s also a featurette titled “Emotional Lives: Making Manchester By the Sea” and around six minutes worth of Deleted Scenes.

The Blu-ray release also comes with a DVD copy of the film, as well as a code for a Digital HD version.

Summary:

As far as dramas go, I can’t think of a better recent textbook example of a potent, character based one than Manchester By the Sea. Everything here is in the best top form possible, from the writing to the acting to the locations. Any possible Oscar win is most incredibly deserved for this Lionsgate Blu-ray release!

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