Casey Affleck has made a long career playing pinched, taciturn characters; men brought down by abject disappointments, humiliations and indignities. There is Jesse James’ assassin, Robert Ford, murderous sheriff Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me, the wronged outlaw in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. In Manchester By The Sea – the latest film from Kenneth Lonergan – we get a chance to see just how he got from there to here.
Lonergan’s film finds Affleck’s Lee Chandler working as a janitor in Boston when he learns his elder brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suffered a heart attack. Returning to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, he finds his brother has died and he is legal guardian of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Ben O’Brien). Lee has a past in Manchester – “a horrible mistake”, which casts a long shadow. He wrestles with his dysfunctional family in the past and struggles to find the best way to raise Patrick in the present.
Cutting back and forth between the two timelines, Lonergan reveals the close sibling ties between Lee and Joe. We see Lee in more carefree days; and understand, perhaps, that the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood and not well suited to some men. There is a strong performance from Michelle Williams – which takes place largely in flashback – as Lee’s fiery wife.
Intriguingly, Matt Damon was originally committed to play Lee and also direct Lonegran’s screenplay. Damon would have brought different beats to the role – but Affleck offers a strong, committed performance. Lonergan’s film has the same qualities as an early Springsteen song – a narrative filled with a haunting, pervasive sadness, filled with guilt and loss.
Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner
The February 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring our cover story on Leonard Cohen. Elsewhere in the issue, we look at the 50 Great Modern Protest Songs and our free CD collects 15 of the very best, featuring Ry Cooder, Jarvis Cocker, Roy Harper, Father John Misty, Hurray For The Riff Raff and Richard Thompson. The issue also features our essential preview of the key albums for 2017, including Roger Waters, Fleet Foxes, Paul Weller, The Jesus And Mary Chain, the Waterboys and more. Plus Leon Russell, Mike Oldfield, Ty Segall, Tift Merritt, David Bowie, Japandroids, The Doors, Flaming Lips, Wilco, The XX, Grateful Dead, Mark Eitzel and more plus 139 reviews