Playwright and occasional filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea is only his second film in fifteen years but it successfully builds on themes established in Lonergan’s superbly crafted earlier films (Margaret, You Can Count on Me). Those themes being the experience of dealing with the emotional losses that can seemingly come out of nowhere and rip apart the very fabric of our lives. Contrary to what’s been said about the film I don’t feel that it surpasses Lonergan’s previous filmmaking forays but it’s still a powerful cinematic voyage that’s more than worth the trip.

Casey Affleck turns in an award caliber performance as Lee Chandler, a man who once had a family and a life that was taken from him in a tragic set of circumstances. Lee long ago left his hometown, trying to put his old life behind him and now blots out his miseries with as much booze as he can muster while earning his keep as a janitor. When Lee’s brother, Jeff (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies, Lee is forced to return to his past as he wrestles with the possibility of becoming a full time guardian to his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), an emotional challenge that he’s not sure he’s ready to accept.

There are great moments of power in the film but it’s nearly fatally overlong at 137 minutes and as such feels unfocused at times, taking its own sweet time in reaching its ultimate conclusion. Shorn of about thirty minutes, it would have been near perfect. As it stands it’s still a good piece of filmmaking that is justified to a certain extent in its praise even if it overstays its welcome just a wee bit.

Photo: Michelle Williams & Casey Afleck

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