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Manchester by the Sea: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Manchester by the Sea (2016) movie poster Manchester by the Sea

Theatrical Release: November 18, 2016 / Running Time: 137 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck (Lee Chandler), Michelle Williams (Randi Chandler), Kyle Chandler (Joe Chandler), Lucas Hedges (Patrick Chandler), C.J. Wilson (George), Heather Burns (Jill), Tate Donovan (Hockey Coach), Josh Hamilton (Wes - Joe's Lawyer), Anna Baryshnikov (Sandy), Matthew Broderick (Jeffrey Garner), Gretchen Mol (Elise Henderson), Liam McNeill (Josh), Kara Hayward (Silvie McCann), Tom Kemp (Stan Chandler), Ben O'Brien (Young Patrick Chandler), Peter Steve Harris (Young Patrick Chandler), Mary Mallen (Sharon), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Mr. Emery)

Buy Manchester by the Sea from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Kenneth Lonergan's career as a writer-director began promisingly with 2000's You Can Count on Me, a film that essentially discovered Mark Ruffalo and earned Laura Linney her first Oscar nomination.
Filmed in 2005, Lonergan's follow-up, Margaret, went unfinished for years, prompting multiple lawsuits during its long editing phase. The New York drama finally materialized in 2011 with a whimper, playing for just four weeks with a max theater count of fourteen, and receiving nary a serious awards campaign despite some critical enthusiasm. Such a challenging experience would drive many a filmmaker out of the business, but like David O. Russell after the romantic comedy that would later be finished and titled Accidental Love hit snags, Lonergan has rebounded with the best work of his career.

Manchester by the Sea cements Lonergan as a storyteller to know and follow. As anyone could have guessed, it received a number of major Academy Award nominations (six) that echoed its status as one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2016. And all that is deserved because with this film, Lonergan has crafted something original, heartfelt, arresting, and earnest.

Our protagonist is Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a Bostonian who works as a handyman/janitor at a four-building apartment complex in Quincy. There, he shovels snowy paths, unclogs toilets, looks at leaky sinks and showers, and changes light bulbs. It's not the most stimulating of work, but it is how Lee makes his living. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot more to Lee than his job. When he's not doing that, he's drinking at a bar where he is uncomfortable around the opposite sex and quick to pick a fight with his fellow man.

Casey Affleck gives the performance of a lifetime as Lee Chandler, whose grief is gradually made known in "Manchester by the Sea."

Early in the film, Lee gets a call that changes his life. His older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has just died suddenly of a cardiac arrest. It's not a complete shock; a flashback shows Joe diagnosed years earlier with congestive heart failure and given five to ten years to live. But the death still hurts a lot for Lee, who we've already seen spending time on Joe's boat with him and Joe's son on the water of the titular Massachusetts fishing town. That son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), is now 16 and custody of him seems up in the air until Joe's will appoints Lee the boy's sole guardian, to Lee's surprise and dismay.

Manchester takes its sweet time to reveal how Lee came to be this way. We see glimpses of a happier life with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and three lovable young children. Joe's death is not Lee's first brush with tragedy. His painful past, almost too difficult for us to bear even as mere spectators, weighs down upon him at all times, making him reluctant to relocate to Manchester and raise Patrick as Joe wanted.

There is no gloss or artificiality to this film. It doesn't shy from harsher aspects of life that no one wants to deal with, from viewing a loved one in a hospital morgue to "making arrangements" and all that entails, like dealing with funeral parlors and wills and reconnecting with estranged family members. The film is long and leisurely paced but never uninteresting or less than moving and genuine.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) butts head with his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), guardianship of whom he resists.

Nineteen years after holding a supporting role in his more famous brother Ben's Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, the younger Affleck makes a perhaps definitive case for him being the most talented performer in his family. It's not exactly a huge revelation; this comes nine years after Casey's Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and capable lead turn in the riveting,
Ben-directed Gone Baby Gone. Now, Casey is a serious contender for the Best Actor Oscar, his biggest competition being Fences star/director Denzel Washington, who has already won two Oscars. Affleck conveys pain quietly but authentically and his performance is a testament to the power of understatement. There isn't a real flashy scene ripe for Oscar ceremony excerption. Affleck does more reacting than acting. But it's nothing less than terrific and the leading source of the film's considerable power.

He's not the only bright spot in the cast. Kyle Chandler is characteristically excellent. Unfortunately, he's one big scene shy of having any shot at supporting actor nominations, adding to his streak of appearing in and dramatically aiding decorated films without ever being personally singled out with accolades. Williams too has limited screentime, but she has two powerful scenes that were enough to push her into Oscar contention for a fourth time. In a role with breakout potential, Hedges gets plenty to do and he does it well, making Patrick a character you neither love nor hate. That helped him become only the sixth male teenager to ever draw an Oscar acting nomination. Extending his streak of Lonergan films, Matthew Broderick is good in one scene and one voiceover-read e-mail. Also seizing a few opportunities to shine as Patrick's mother is Gretchen Mol, who reminds us she can act nearly two decades after being prematurely designated an "It Girl." Another standout is C.J. Wilson, an actor you probably haven't seen a whole lot of his 15 years of mostly bit parts.

But it all goes back to Lonergan, who single-handedly wrote this seemingly personal and intimate tale, shockingly without living it as presented. (He also makes a cameo as a judgmental passerby.) It shares some of the positive traits of his first two films as auteur, but without repeating beats and while finding a rhythm, tone, and feel all its own. Providing the occasional chuckle and quite a few more tears, Manchester by the Sea captures what it feels like to be alive, to endure hardship, and try to solve problems without easy solutions. Both literally and figuratively, it is rendered in shades of gray that may make it less than fully enjoyable for your average moviegoer but uniquely rewarding for those who look for films that convey the human experience with genuine emotion and three-dimensional characters rather than convention and tropes.

Manchester announces Amazon Studios as a purveyor of serious cinema. Though the e-tail giant's entertainment production division launched a year earlier with Spike Lee's Chi-raq and has been active in TV for several seasons, Manchester makes them an instant serious player in the prestige fare game. Acquired after its premiere at January 2016's Sundance Film Festival for a substantial $10 million, the film went on to be an unusually significant draw for an adult drama, grossing $46.1 M domestic, a number that could rise should Affleck win Best Actor or Lonergan Best Original Screenplay on Sunday. This week, though, five days before the Oscar ceremony, Manchester hits stores from Lionsgate, the parent company of Amazon's co-distributor Roadside Attractions, on DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Manchester by the Sea: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 21, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $39 .99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9 & BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on standalone DVD ($29.95 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Despite its lack of cinematography nods, the cold and snowy Manchester by the Sea is visually striking and the Blu-ray's 1.85:1 presentation does a really nice job of showcasing that. The transfer is mostly perfect, though a few shots looked strangely grainy (most noticeably, Lee's pained small talk with the mother of one of his nephew's two girlfriends). I don't remember that being an issue in my theatrical viewing, but it's quite possible I was too invested dramatically to notice. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack keeps the accented and sometimes crude dialogue crisp and intelligible, while the soundfield opens up to distribute the unorthodox choral music that Lesley Barber incorporates into her Oscar-ineligible score.

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan discusses the film's evolution in an audio commentary and this making-of featurette "Emotional Lives." The Chandler brothers (Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck) clash over the business name Chandler Charters in this deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with "A Conversation with Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan", which would more accurately be labeled as an audio commentary. Content producer Peter Ventrella is on hand to keep Lonergan talking.

He succeeds, with the filmmaker sharing much about how the film took shape from an idea given to him by actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who are both producers here. Given the long runtime, some quiet spells are inevitable but when Lonergan is speaking, he has something interesting to say, from how certain scenes were shot well into the night to how Casey Affleck persuaded him to keep a scene he was going to cut and so on.

Moving to the video side (encoded in HD on Blu-ray, naturally), we get "Emotional Lives: Making Manchester by the Sea" (16:00), a solid making-of featurette that complements the expected talking head comments with behind-the-scenes footage and film clips.

Finally, we get three deleted scenes (5:50), all of which feature Kyle Chandler. One involves an unwanted phone call and the other two flashback to sad and happy times from the Chandler brothers' past.

The discs open with full trailers for Southside with You, Patriots Day, Indignation, La La Land, and Café Society. The same five repeat from the menu's "Also from Lionsgate" listing. Manchester's own trailer is not included here.

The menu applies choral music over a montage of clips that loop above an ocean view-backed listings section.

The two boring gray discs (look closely to tell one from the other) share an eco-friendly keepcase, topped by a plain slipcover and accompanied by a Digital HD with UltraViolet insert.

One of the film's most powerful and heartbreaking scenes comes near its end, when Randi (Michelle Williams) tries to rebuild a relationship with ex-husband Lee (Casey Affleck).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Devoid of artifice and full of great understated acting, Manchester by the Sea is 2016's most moving film and also one of its very best. I would encourage you to see it in any form, but Lionsgate's combo pack is easy to recommend as what I'd call the first must-own Blu-ray release of 2017. But as some will find it difficult to endure once (as evidenced by the hordes of idiotic 1-star reviews on, of all places, Amazon itself), maybe see the movie before you commit to the repeat viewings that justify a purchase.

Buy Manchester by the Sea from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Moonlight • Arrival • Hacksaw Ridge • The Edge of Seventeen
Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan: Margaret
Casey Affleck: Gone Baby Gone • The Finest Hours • Interstellar | Michelle Williams: Blue Valentine • My Week with Marilyn
Kyle Chandler: Carol • The Wolf of Wall Street • Argo • Zero Dark Thirty • Early Edition: The First Season | C.J. Wilson: Demolition
Spotlight • The Fighter • The Verdict • The Witch • Silver Linings Playbook

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Reviewed February 20, 2017.



Text copyright 2017 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Amazon Studios, K Period Media, Pearl Street Films, The Media Farm, The A, Middleton Project, B Story Productions, and Roadside Attractions, 2017 Lionsgate.
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