Review: Manchester By The Sea, a wintry tale of frozen grief leaves you cold

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in Manchester By The Sea. Picture: Studio Canal/Claire Folger

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in Manchester By The Sea. Picture: Studio Canal/Claire Folger - Credit: PA

Two hours of ice cold with Casey Affleck is supposed to be raw and real but just feels staged and bogus.

Manchester By The Sea (15)

***

This offers audiences a challenging proposition: a 135-minute long Casey Affleck character study. Like all reasonable people, I have been stirred and inspired by the way the lesser Affleck has risen out of his brother's shadow and forged a really quite impressive movie career for himself, mixing up supporting roles with character leads.

A lot of the appeal is that he works sparingly and never allows his face to become too familiar. Here though, he's playing a bottled up man who isn't very articulate, usually swears when he does speak, or expresses himself in punch ups. Which means that you've committed yourself to two and a quarter hours of his scrunched up, puzzled child face and halting, mumbled expression.


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Manchester by the Sea is a film about receiving and responding to bad news. Very bad news. It begins with a surly, unapproachable handy man (Affleck) finding out his brother has died. But there's more to come. In flashbacks we see him in happier times, before something even worse happened to him.

Waiting to find out what this is, appears to be the film's main narrative tension, though the reveal actually comes around halfway through. Most of the time before and after is spent wandering around in the winter cold of the Massachusetts port of the title.

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Director Kenneth Lonergan's previous film Margaret got only a fleeting release due to a post-production dispute with its distributors and the film was almost buried until a few reviewers sought it out and reclaimed it from the cold, cold ground with their rave reviews.

This follow up is also getting universal acclaim for it marvellous acting and understated drama. Which is fine but my problem with it is that, in a very real and heartfelt sense, I just couldn't give an Expletive Deleted about any of it.

Its archetypal so-cold-you-can-see-their-breath-when-they-speak mumble is meant to win us over with its unforced integrity and make us feel that we are seeing something real, and raw. But it isn't. I, Daniel Blake feels real and raw, but this is fundamentally bogus in the way only artfully disguised theatrics can be.

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