Telluride Review: Affleck Soars in ‘Manchester by the Sea’

2016 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVALYou might think Casey Affleck is too young to receive a tribute at a major film festival like Telluride, but if you take a second to look back at his already illustrious career, your mind should bemanchester swayed. For the last twenty years, Affleck has consistently turned heads with sometimes subtle, sometimes vociferous performances in films that include: “To Die For,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Gerry,” “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Killer Inside Me,” “Out of the Furnance,” and his career-best, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” – for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actor (2007).

Before the Telluride premiere of “Manchester by the Sea (the film made its world debut at Sundance earlier this year), the intense yet charming actor received his aforementioned tribute. Following the presentation, Kenneth Lonergan‘s (“Margaret,” “You Can Count on Me”) somber and moody melodrama lit up the screen.

Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, an emotionally spent janitor who lives remote from the rest of his family. Following the death of his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee returns to his hometown to face the overwhelming events that consume his past. Lonergan’s multi-layered narrative effectively weaves three plot lines simultaneously. We find out about Joe’s death very early on in the film, and follow Lee on his journey with his hilarious yet troubled nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Meanwhile, we see flashbacks of Lee’s relationship with Joe, as well as the devastating tragedy that led to Lee’s emotional vacancy.

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Lonergan’s tale is devastating and heavy, and is full of emotionally rich performances from Affleck, Michelle Williams – who plays Lee’s ex-wife, and newcomer Hedges. While I can admit to the film’s superb acting and potent and atmospheric storytelling, “Manchester by the Sea” left me feeling a bit distant and at odds with its conclusion. There will be many Lonergan fans who fall head over heels for “Manchester,” though, as they already have based on the reviews out of Sundance and now Telluride. But this is simply a film I admired, not one that I can say I fully embraced.

“Manchester by the Sea” is distributed by Roadside Attractions, and is scheduled for a November 18th release.

GRADE: (★★1/2)

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About Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Lost, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.