Batten Down The Hatches – ★★★★★
Kenneth Lonergan has crafted a devastating film about guilt, grief and the inability of men to talk about their feelings. A heartbreaking look at family life streaked with brilliant humour like all good families. Manchester by the Sea shows Lee (Casey Affleck) having to return home to look after his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) after the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). Returning to Manchester means Lee must deal with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and a town he’s tried to forget for so long.
The cold sleepy town of Manchester in Cape Ann is where brothers Lee and Joe took their fishing boat out during the summer. Writer director Lonergan jumps from past to present to convey each brothers family life and their deep commitment to one another despite all their setbacks. It still comes as quite a surprise that Lee is now Patrick’s legal guardian and the two must readjust to their new roles.
Lucas Hedges does an outstanding job portraying a teen coping with the death of his father with his mix of self obsessed youth and little boy lost. Kyle Chandler brilliantly inhabits the role of big brother and eldest, looking out for all concerned whether they want it or not. Williams doesn’t have much to do but every scene she has she steals adding more and more depth to the emotional core of the film. Casey shows his mastery of inner turmoil and how it seems like he’s walking around with the weight of the world on his shoulders with the simplest of looks.
All this is possible due to Lonergan’s script which unlike an Aaron Sorkin piece gives the film deafening silences and space for reflection making the dialogue all the more powerful and poignant. Having worked as a playwright we see his skill for storytelling and reveals alongside relatable well sketched out characters. Lesley Barber’s haunting musical arrangements of both strings and chorals give the film an ethereal feel, adding another delicate layer to this tinderbox of emotion.
While Manchester by the Sea will undoubtedly be considered for Oscar nominations at the end of the month this almost seems to cheapen the film. It deserves to be lauded much longer than the whirlwind of awards season. Thankfully due to the characters, performances and subtle direction this seems inevitable.
Opens Friday the 13th of January