Manchester by the Sea (2016)

(Amazon Prime Streaming, September 2017) Most movie misanthropes are simply eccentric people who just need a little bit of love and compassion before they become whole again. But not the protagonist of Manchester by the Sea, a haunted man who would rather work in a menial job and avoid human contact (including advances from attractive clients) due to an unspecified trauma in his past. But as his brother dies and he’s forced to take responsibility for his nephew, the nature of his past becomes more obvious, and his all-consuming guilt explained. Casey Affleck has never been the most sympathetic of actors, and he’s just about perfect in this movie as he plays a character going through life through motions, not quite believing that he deserves to live. (The flashback that explains his all-consuming grief has a spectacular suicide attempt, for reasons entirely comprehensible to the audience.)  Having lost it all, he doesn’t believe that he deserves it back, and the ending only offers a very brief glimmer of flickering hope. From the above description, you’d think that Manchester by the Sea was an unrelenting assault of gloom, but one of the savviest ironies of this well-controlled film is the bleak dark humour that permeates it, making it feel far more interesting than a pure drama would have been. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has put together something unexpectedly interesting considering the dark subject matter, and it’s as sure an instant Oscar contender as you can imagine. 

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