Monday, 30 January 2017

Best Actor 2016: Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea

Casey Affleck won his Oscar from his second Oscar nomination for portraying Lee Chandler in Manchester By The Sea.

After having watched Manchester by the Sea for a second time all of my reservations not only stand but have grown stronger. The film seems obsessed with misery even past the tribulations of the main character, we are given not one but two stories of side characters telling about the death of their own fathers at a young age. At a filmmaking stand point though it is also deeply flawed with the refusal apparently to cut any scene or even cut them down. Particular mention must be noted of director Kenneth Lonergan's personal cameo where the camera follows his character down the street for a few seconds as though we are suddenly going to follow the pivotal character of "pedestrian on street". Although this may in part be caused by the films amateurish use of music, where Longergan overlays a song through a series of scenes with no actual rhyme, and has the scenes keep going just until the music ends. It's particularly questionable in the flashback sequence in the middle of the film where the music doesn't end when the flashback ends, it ends awkwardly a minute later as the characters just are walking down some stairs.

Having said that I always try to look at a performance fairly, even if I did not care for the film, and Affleck's work should not be hand waved away here. This is in a way difficult performance, obviously not to appreciate by the critics's almost drone like reaction to it, but to see why it is truly great. To do so though it is best to look upon the performance chronologically rather than by the film's jumbled version of the story. In the past scenes we see Affleck play Lee as just a normal guy from Massachusetts, with a far more credible and consistent accent than a few of his co-stars. We see scenes with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and his nephew Patrick (eventually played by Lucas Hedges) on the boat together. Affleck is good in these scenes by just plainly showing a loving and warm uncle fooling around with his nephew. Affleck offers a guy full of life, not overdone, but just a normal guy who enjoys his life as we also see him with his three kids and his wife Randi (Michelle Williams). Again Affleck's performance just works as a natural depiction of just a guy who loves his family and living his life.

Of course being in Massachusetts one must indulge in some loud obnoxious behavior, the film world version of Massachusetts mind you. Still just as in Good Will Hunting, Affleck is quite capable in bringing that sort of buffoonery to screen, although here it isn't meant to be all that funny and it's not. The behavior though is what leads to the death of all of Lee's children, must be three because having one dead kid just isn't enough for Lonergan, after he drunkenly fails to properly secure a fireplace before leaving to get more beer. Affleck absolutely delivers in the scene first in his horrified reaction to seeing his house in flames, then later in his testimony to the police. Affleck makes the emotion raw as he inflicts every word of his delivery with a terrible pain suggesting the grief at its most intense. Affleck conveys the narrow focus of Lee's mind in the horrible constriction of it all as he attempts to confess his crimes. When it is determined to be an accident and Lee is let go, he attempts suicide. Affleck is excellent in the moment as he makes the anguish palatable in Lee, and brings the needed visceral quality to the man's harrowing breakdown.

We are given just a few brief scenes immediately afterwards though Affleck uses them well as he portrays Lee's grief as very much still alive. He walks as though he is drowned within in it, and only wakes up to occasionally viciously lash out when prodded in any way. Affleck presents the still direct suffering of the grief as he has barely a handle on it since it still actively pains him. This then takes us to the Lee that we see for much of the film, which is Lee in the present timeline. In this timeline Affleck gives often an extremely low key performance almost monotone at times, but that's is not a criticism, this approach is actually the crux of his performance. Affleck's work realizes a man who has come to terms with his grief but has not recovered from it. Affleck's construction of this is rather remarkable in the way he so fully embodies this state of Lee. His eyes are essentially dead most of the time, with only the most muted emotion from them as though that is all he is able to tolerate, his body language is always distant. In that Affleck rarely speaks to some directly or looks them in the eye as though to avoid connecting with them beyond a surface level.

What is most impressive about Affleck's work are that the years of dealing with the guilt and depression seem to be sewn within him. Affleck portrays it to be a part of Lee that leaves him in this strange detached state. Lee's catch phrase is basically "I don't care" and Affleck makes that to be true although not in quite the way you might expect. Affleck doesn't make Lee's behavior that as specifically some selfish jerk, it certainly can be construed as jerky behavior, rather he illustrates a man who is unwilling to make any connect whatsoever preferring his state of not really feeling much of anything. When we see Lee working his job as a janitor for his tenants, there is nothing but the work in Affleck's performance. He reacts just enough to be human, but none of it really phases him even when one of the tenants becomes angry with him. Affleck gives us a man who basically has come to terms with what he's done by closing him off from almost everyone. There is an emotional moment though when he attacks a man at the bar after the man randomly stares at him too long. Affleck handles it as basically a primal burst of hatred for his life, and being reminded of being ostracized after the tragedy, caused by a connection of sorts through that random stare.

Affleck only occasionally from this point has emotional moments as he gives a very consistent performance in terms of expressing Lee's state. This is even as he must go to take care of his nephew after his brother's death. Affleck if anything becomes more detached at times as though trying to keep himself from essentially feeling his pain again. Affleck, even when Lee is dealing with the immediate aftermath of the death of his brother, plays it very close to the chest with only a momentary outburst. Affleck utilizes the moment to portray the control in Lee to basically be detached, he breaks, but basically calms himself to feeling almost nothing as soon as he can. Affleck remains consistent in his scenes with Lucas Hedge's Patrick. Affleck isn't quite cold, as in there is not a single place in which Lee suggests any hatred for Patrick, but he only reaffirms his state by conversing with him yet never quite connecting. Their conversations are just a bit disjointed, as there is a foundation of that warm relationship we once saw, but Lee won't go any further than that. The most he'll go is occasionally snap if Patrick endangers himself in any way, and again in that moment Affleck reflects the intensity of his fear through anger not to repeat his personal losses.

This does leave to an atypical character arc as in every slight change in Affleck's performance, which can be ever so minor, in terms of portraying more overt emotion outside of his outbursts Affleck basically emphasizes two things. He indicates any more warmth in his work also comes with just a bit more pain all the same, suggesting it only causes Lee to further relive his terrible memories the more he opens up. This culminates when his ex-wife openly forgives him. This is actually a scene where I noticed some criticism, from those otherwise positive on the film, against his performance because Affleck is rather quiet in the scene, which completely misinterprets his entire performance. Affleck in the scene still gives us Lee trying his hardest to dodge his feelings and being confronted with the person who most shares his pain, Affleck compromises only ever so slightly. After the moment though Affleck's in his eyes basically his old grief takes root as he has one more violent breakdown filled with rage then another soon afterwards only filled with despair. What seems to be the film's main intent it to gives us this man who cannot actually recover from his losses. What Affleck's performance does is earn this intent, and give understanding to it. He shows us the happy man from the beginning against the man who has come to terms only through a terrible and shaky compromise to commit self exile both physically and emotionally from the past.  This might have sounded like a detached review actually because I don't like the film, but I won't penalize Affleck for that. He delivers in creating a convincing portrait of a man who will never overcome misery, even if I did not find the film all that compelling.

53 comments:

Luke Higham said...

1. Mortensen
2. Washington
3. Garfield
4. Gosling
5. Affleck

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Love the new rating. :)

Psifonian said...

Whoa, when did you turn around on DDL?

Luke Higham said...

Psifonian: He changed it, because DDL is the record holder for most Lead Actor wins.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I liked Manchester more than you did (though I have my reservations as well), but yes, Affleck was better than the film itself. I've always been drawn to performances and characters where grief is depicted as sort of detached state. I just find it fascinating on a psychological level.

Mitchell Murray said...

I had a strong feeling he would get a 5.

Is this career peak work from Affleck, Louis, or was he better in Assassination?

Luke Higham said...

Mitchell: From what I can gather from this review, Jesse James with ease.

Louis Morgan said...

Psifonian:

Was I down on Day-Lewis? My affection for his work has grown I suppose, but I've always been a fan.

Mitchell:

Assassination is still his career best.

Psifonian said...

Back in the day I remember you being pretty critical of him in "There Will Be Blood." Not hating it, but you did once have Mortensen over him.

Anonymous said...

Great review.

Anonymous said...

Great performance here but still better in assassination imo

Charles Heiston said...

I didn't like the film much either. Glad to see some new pictures around of DDL.

Charles Heiston said...

Oops, Almost forgot.
1. Mortensen
2. Garfield
3. Washington
4. Gosling
5. Affleck

Luke Higham said...

2. Garfield
3. Washington

Anonymous said...

I still would not mind if he won the Oscar

Michael McCarthy said...

Even if Louis didn't like the movie much, I'm still not sure why anyone thought he wouldn't get a 5.

Robert MacFarlane said...

@Michael: Yeah, I don't get why everyone always assumes you have to love the movie to love the performance. My Best Actor win last year was Bateman in The Gift, and I hated the last 20 minutes of that movie.

Luke Higham said...

Michael & Robert: I agree 100%.

Anonymous said...

Michael: I never thought he wouldn't get a 5.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: He only meant those that said he wouldn't. If he said everyone, it's a different story.

Luke Higham said...

Affleck steps down from The Batman. Die DCU Die.

Matt Mustin said...

Haven't seen this yet, but I have made my appreciation of Casey Affleck's talents known in some circles.

Calvin Law said...

Loved this performance and loved the film, so at the very least I'm pleased with the rating.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: If you haven't already given them, can I have your top 10 acting moments for Naomi Watts?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: And Cotillard.

moviefilm said...

1) Mortensen
2) Affleck
3) Washington
4) Gosling
5) Garfield (really a weak part of the lineup)

94dfk1 said...

2006 version of La La Land:

Mia Dolan- Rachel McAdams
Sebastian Wilder- Ewan McGregor

Calvin Law said...

Affleck's stepped down as director of the new Batman movie, I have an ominous feeling of The Zack Snyder Returns

Calvin Law said...

Also I re-watched this last night, and I guess I'll just have to fully disagree with Louis on all counts. Still very much my #3 of the year (though I should also rewatch Moonlight).

Alex Marqués said...

Calvin: have you seen Lonergan's other two films? I love You Can Count On Me, and I really like Margaret in spite of its messiness, but it's definitely less accesible.

Alex Marqués said...

I still haven't seen this one, but I can't wait to do it.

Calvin Law said...

Alex: Haven't seen Margaret. I thought You Can Count on Me was okay, nothing amazing and I found lots of problems with its characters and the eventual resolutions, but Ruffalo was good and Linney was really good.

Calvin Law said...

Robert: Watched Harbour's SAG speech and I have to agree with you, purely by his rhetorical ability and passion alone I was so swayed by him.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

EXCELLENT WORK. I am so glad that Louis still loved him.

omar said...

1. Mortensen
2. Affleck
3. Garfield
4. Washington
5. Gosling

Calvin Law said...

Guys, any performances from 2016 you hope Louis might bump up? Personally I hope George Mackay gets a bit higher than just a 2.5, he is in my top 10 personally.

Alex Marqués said...

1. Mortensen
2. Affleck
3. Garfield
4. Washington
5. Gosling

Varun Neermul said...

Adam Driver is my best actor win for his performance 'Paterson'

Charles Heiston said...

I REALLY need to see Paterson. And just for fun my top 5 supporting roles of 2016.

1. Liam Neeson - Silence
2. Yôsuke Kubozuka - Silence
3. Sam Neil - Hunt for The Wilderpeople
4. Issei Ogata - Silence
5. Ali - Moonlight

Luke Higham said...

Charles: I predict 8 fives for Supporting this year.

Ali
Foster
Neill
Lewis
Skarsgard
Neeson
Kubozuka
Ogata

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Just do 5 reviews for alternate supporting. Those that I've mentioned above and Ineson/Scrimshaw.

Charles Heiston said...

Luke: I think 5 reviews would be great for supporting too.

Anonymous said...

Cannot wait for the Silence reviews.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Though since you haven't seen The Witch yet, if you want to do a sixth review out of the remaining contenders, I'd go with Ehrenreich.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top ten best and worst accents in films.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Luke-
Best Accents
DDL in Everything
Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds (Fassbender isn't the best with accents, but his one was flawless here)
Tom Hardy in The Revenant
Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon
Laurence Olivier in Sleuth (although I could just about choose any of his films)
James Mason in North By Northwest
Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
John Hurt in The Elephant Man
George Sanders in All About Eve

Charles Heiston said...

What about Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges and Schindler's List?

Calvin Law said...

I'd say Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, Val Kilmer in Tombstone, and Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer are up there for me.

94dfk1 said...

Varun: Glad to hear that. Adam Driver is an actor I always keep an eye on and I'm looking forward to watching Paterson.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt:

Naomi Watts:

All of Mulholland Drive, I suppose highlight the Audition.

Marion Cotillard:

1. The Ending - The Immigrant
2. Edith learns about her husband - La Vie En Rose
3. Sandra gives up - Two Days One Night
4. The First Performance - La Vie En Rose
5. Ewa Searches for Magda at Orlando's show - The Immigrant
6. Out Damn Spot - Macbeth
7. Old Edith entertains - La Vie En Rose
8. Ewa final plea - The Immigrant
9. Sandra turns down the job - Two Days One Night
10. Billie's interrogation - Public Enemies

Luke:

I'll assume you mean put on accents.

Best:

Daniel Day-Lewis (All of them)
Gary Oldman (All of them)
Martin Landau - Ed Wood
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Al Pacino - Dog Day Afternoon
Robert Downey Jr. - Chaplin
Peter Sellers - Dr. Strangelove
Laurence Olivier - Marathon Man
Val Kilmer - Tombstone
Philip Seymour Hoffman - A Most Wanted Man

Worst:

Mickey Rooney - Breakfast at Tiffanys
Kevin Costner - Robin Hood
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained
John Malkovich - Rounders
Tom Cruise - Far and Away
Eric Roberts - Runaway Train
Forest Whitaker - The Crying Game
John Malkovich - Deepwater Horizon
Brad Pitt - 12 Years a Slave
Keanu Reeves - Bram Stoker's Dracula

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Any more 2016 viewings.

Anonymous said...

Is Kidman in Lion a 4 or a 4.5 then? Since you said you were considering upgrading her.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Edge of Seventeen.

Anonymous:

4.5.

Calvin:

Not even on Lonergan's cameo?

Any who I do think we are about to be comrades with my next review.