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DVD Review: ‘Manchester by the Sea’

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manchester by the seaKenneth Lonergan’s much-lauded Manchester by the Sea, still in theaters as of this writing, comes out Feb. 21 as a Blu-ray Combo Pack (including DVD and Digital HD) from Lionsgate. Written and directed by Lonergan and starring Casey Affleck in a taciturn, Golden Globe-winning performance, the movie is fairly long and quite slow-paced, so home is a great place to watch it – though if it should win the Oscar for Best Picture, I imagine it will stick around awhile longer in theaters too.

In a nutshell, Manchester by the Sea is a slow-burn reveal of a past trauma that brought antihero handyman Lee Chandler into the state of lonesome rootlessness in which we find him. A deceptively light and funny opening shows him fixing toilets and dealing with the colorful personalities of the residents of the Quincy, MA housing development where he works.

But the tone changes abruptly, never to revert, at the news of the death of his older brother – not unexpected, because of 45-year-old Joe’s (Kyle Chandler) weak heart. We follow Lee back to his hometown, a Massachusetts seaport where it always seems to be winter and Lee must take charge of his orphaned teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges in a gritty performance).

We learn the background in a series of flashbacks. Sometimes it takes a few minutes to realize that a flashback sequence has begun, but that’s all part of Lonergan’s slowly unfolding vision; his method is to wrap you in a deliberate fusion of momentum and inertia. It’s of a piece with Affleck’s tightly wound performance. The film is more than anything else a story of a man’s suppression of his feelings. But it’s also a tale of a connection hesitantly solidifying between a man and his nephew, thrown together reluctantly, both unprepared.

There are three extras in the package. Don’t watch the self-congratulatory featurette “Emotional Lives: Making Manchester by the Sea” before you’ve seen the film, so as not to ruin that key reveal. (It’s mostly a promotional piece anyway.) By contrast, I often enjoy watching deleted scenes because they teach you about the art and mechanics of storytelling, showing how a director and editor determine what’s actually necessary to show the viewer and what’s not. That’s the case here: we see that along with some relatively incidental scenes, some very heavy material was shot and then not used. (As for the third extra, I would have liked to watch the interview with Lonergan, but it wouldn’t play on my disc, and getting access to the film and extras via the included Digital HD code was a convoluted, intrusive process I wasn’t willing to complete.)

Beautifully shot and directed, Manchester by the Sea has a wonderful cast who make the characters feel remarkably real. Its restful pacing makes its human drama all the more powerful. It’s a movie I’ll watch more than once.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.