Manchester By The Sea (2017) – Review

An uncle takes responsibility of his nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Manchester By The Sea bottles bleak social interaction in gorgeous yet humble cinematography. Some of its moments are excruciatingly tragic, a particular mess or sincerely comical – all in the masterful exploratory sense of film-making. Agreed emotions or conflicting ones make Manchester’s scenes more compelling thanks to, much like reality, their unpredictable nature. Characters will talk over others when they’re annoyed, panicked and uncomfortable. When they scatter-talk you have to wait a moment or two for the confusion to die down. Manchester, as a story, isn’t afraid to show you rotating sides and make you understand them, and, then, make you deal with them. A character’s logic never overshoots the narrative – as people, they’re not massively complex, in fact, they’ll differ on opinions in easy to understand situations. What’s interesting is that the story pays special attention to the character’s act of making the other understand their point, even if other already does. Drama comes from the confusion of everything, and it’s damned effecting.

Judging from the general tone the trailer implies, you’d be delighted to discover that Manchester has an unexpected abundance of comedy. The comedy is a welcome and necessary alleviation from its general icy and gaunt tone. A lot of chatter about the film will likely send unappetizing signals to a fair few casual audience members; the film community has continually hyped this as “Oscar bait”, and while addressing this point is a valid one, you’ll surely find that most people consider Manchester By The Sea as reasonably approachable. Granted, it’s still quite depressing, but there’s charm to be found and this distinctive type of humour will carry you through and between some of the more emotionally exhausting times. There are a lot of films with a similar tone to Manchester By The Sea – Synecdoche, New York being a particular favourite bleak-toned drama of mine, a worthwhile neighbour to the ‘defeated protagonist’ story, if you’re looking for one – however, Manchester is set apart by it’s approachable humane quality. There’s a reason to have faith in their struggles, a reason to bear with their drudgery, and, for both us and them, comedy is the best way of coping with such uneasy situations.

On a more technically minded level, Manchester By The Sea is remarkably both cinematically objective and subjective. Although the camera remains coldly distant with detached restraint – subjecting us to a distant onlooker, we are rarely permitted the close up – instead, a particularly useful indicator for understanding our relationship with Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is in how the presented narrative unravels itself. Flashbacks are never marked immediately, we only know they’re happening when certain logical signposts appear. These flashbacks express the most significant information points of the backstory. As the flashbacks’ cumulative anguish guides us into Lee’s memories, as well as seeing his mental image at that juncture, we’re seamlessly positioned directly into his mind. When the most painful memories are withheld by the film until later on, we further understand that these are the moments he would rather not remember, he is pushing them back. To successfully execute this kind of backstory is arduous at the best of times – but Manchester By The Sea’s exposition creates so much insight that it never once feels like a plot mechanic, which it undeniably is – instead, the flow is so dexterously smooth and innately personal that Lonergan’s method benefits our ability to empathise with Lee’s side-story of introspection. This is filmmaking that turns a hand holding formula into a crushing gut punch.

I think Manchester By The Sea is one of those movies that I just love because it’s exactly my cup of sombre, melancholy tea. Should you see it? Probably, yes. It’s a focus minded film that blends a whirlwind of emotions into a direct, controlled and balanced package. To reaffirm the general buzz about the film: Casey Affleck is fantastic, he’s the stand out but the entire cast is incredible. The direction, as already commented on, is superb, as is Lonergan’s writing. A handful of marvellous editing choices crept up on me unexpectedly, however, the editing framework as a whole, while moderately strong, wasn’t substantially groundbreaking nor earth shaking – and I think that the same goes for a lot of the other aspects too, and paradoxically, some of the aforementioned praise I have given the film. While there are plenty of shining moments in Manchester By The Sea, and the performances earn an adequate amount of rewatchability, the film drifts politely into a seat among its peers, hardly shaking the still ground it rests on. It’s comfortable. Incredible, but comfortable. Perhaps wait for the blu-ray.

Sherlock: The Lying Detective – Season Four: Episode Two – Review [Spoilers]

We get nothing dramatically insightful from The Lying Detective. Watson persists in tiresomely blaming Sherlock for Mary’s decision to save Sherlock’s life. What a bastard that Sherlock is, how dare he have zero control over the instinctive decisions made by someone else. And sure, you might argue in defence of this abysmally forced conflict but if you consider the significant impact of including this problem, you’ll begin to realise that nothing substantial changes; the show’s structure is untouched, other than Watson’s infrequent bickerings at Sherlock (in that typical BBC, primary school playground levels of unadulterated meanypants dialogue).

In all credit to Moffat, he wrangles a fair amount of time out of delaying the investigation (you know, that thing we’re watching Sherlock for; y’know, the entertainment thing) as Mrs Hudson: a painstakingly, downright flat, uninteresting, novelty-worn, sickly sweet, over indulgent remnant of Sherlockian times missed and forgotten, laboriously convinces Watson to kick-start the plot and, at long last, do something. Had this episode opened with a picture of Watson’s therapist, with some text placed underneath that identified her character, nothing would be lost. Further still, we know they’re going to be friends come the final credits; after all, it’s what we came to see – we all know Moffat by now, he’s a sure thing to pander to the audience in the easiest way possible: example, the non-committal resurrection of a hallucinatory Mary. It’s a problematic decision; they want the audience to engage with the tragedy yet deliver no hard repercussions for killing her off – commit god damn it!

Then again, compared to the weak plot devices, Sherlock and Watson’s mindless beefing is considerably more destructive to the show’s main appeal; they’re detrimental to our enjoyment, to the fun of Sherlock (the shows balanced and saving grace, and its greatest appeal). Who enjoys watching two moping middle aged men reluctantly bearing each other – after the massive espionage plot, with the sidenotes of unrelenting fatherhood issues and an SMS cheating scandal, and they’re currently dealing with a hunt for a serial killer/Tv personality in addition to Sherlock battling his drug induced state which grants him this silly, god-like (better yet, deus ex machina) omniscience; does any of this seem to balance? Does it make sense to throw in a ruptured disconnect between the two characters at this instance? Together they excite the game-afoot; why else would we watch half baked dramas? We need the hunt; we need Watson, Sherlock, excitement and chemistry.

And another small point, since we already know that Moffat and Gatiss are provenly non committal to permanent consequences, aka Mary, we can place a pretty safe bet that Watson is also likely safe to stay: pre-emptively denying any false tension given from such a “frayed” dynamic. This is the age old case of ‘writers whom have exposed their hand, with no cards left to deal’.

What would a bare bones, last resort, generic playground drama be without a quintessential therapist trope; a therapist in the traditional screenwriting sense being: they who acquire the main character’s emotional baggage to immediately betray this easily given trust and scooby-doo themselves as “the real villain all along!”, to abuse and gratuitously manipulate the character in an impossibly specific situation. (Although I’m kinda trashing episode 3, I actually rather enjoyed the Arkham Asylum-esque framework the writers kinda-maniacally played on).

Moffat’s problem has always been exposition. He sucks at giving audiences information in a natural way; it’s always jarring, uncharismatic and typically quite shallow. Given the nature of season 4, the sporadic random plot points it’s continually chasing and how their main objective is to set up bigger, larger plots, regardless of logic (e.g. The Six Thatchers broken bust guiding Sherlock to a decade old conspiracy plot which happens to be directly related to Mary, Watson’s wife.), to suddenly include a new therapist in the cast would be like any episode of Coronation Street spontaneously adding a stranger to the roster and “wouldn’t you know it, it’s Vera Duckworth’s evil twin dead half brother!, or whatever.” When you’re playing by the rules of a daytime soap opera, you’re not really pulling wool over anyone’s eyes when you’re using the exact same set ups.

The Lying Detective is better described as daytime tv sci-fi fantasy melodrama. And don’t mistake my disappointment of this hybrid genre as a reflection on the genre as a whole, rather I’m troubled by Moffat’s ability to adapt the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and turn them into something so antithetical to his original tales (transforming them into sub-par gimmicky trope fests).

Ignoring the silly sci-fi fantasy, let’s examine at Culverton Smith. Now this is a delightful personality that I joyously revelled in. Sickly devilish, I cherished how the idea of fame and national worship managed to paint us, the audience, as resembling some kind of sect or cult; we might idolise and defend a murder who mimics his own murderous idols: a perpetual cult of murder and worship. To call a spade a spade, he’s a symbol for Jimmy Saville, and perhaps some may consider this representation to be rather on the nose, but I disagree. I consider Moffat’s portrayal of Culverton as being post-yewtree. We’re not looking at a man who may or may not be the criminal, rather we see this Saville figure from Sherlock’s perspective, therefore, Moffat suggests that we should begin to wonder how anyone could get into his position of power and how he could accomplish these crimes without ever coming under suspicion. My problem with achieving this is that it comes at a compromise. Without the Columbo narrative structure our firm opinion of Culverton would waver under suspicion of Sherlock’s mental deterioration. Meaning: the narrative absolutely needed this particular structure; even at the cost of Sherlock’s defining characteristic: logical deductions to unexpected conclusions – the excitement of the revelation (the act of scooby-dooing). Therefore Moffat decides, as a supplement for this compromise, that Sherlock should instead be a Nostradamus type figure who predicts situation outcomes by deducing them beforehand, through probability… so… yeah, what a load of shit.

However, this is all secondary to mentioning the show’s biggest bombshell: Eurus, Sherlock’s super secret never-hinted-before sister; aka the therapist; aka the flirty girl (that Watson just so happened to fancy); aka fake Faith Culverton – Eurus’ worst performance, and by far the most performative, like a last resort character she just threw in last minute. But sure enough, I was duped, and at the end of the day they accomplished their mission. Hand on heart, I didn’t recognise any similarities between the three performances, and that’s a pretty great accomplishment for the show.

Eurus is only in the episode for perhaps one real scene and so discussing her now would diminish further discussions of her character for the next episode, however, my main point with Eurus isn’t that she demonstrates absolutely no sympathy for a depressed, drug abusing Sherlock – none whatsoever; given the ending of episode three, where we discover her true motivation, I find this a little difficult to digest (but more on that next episode). Rather my biggest gripe with her character is that she pushes Sherlock into the world of Culverton Smith; making her the real case solver, Sherlock’s merely pushed in the right direction. So when you consider how this coincides with Mary’s request that Sherlock throw himself in harm’s way as a means to twist John’s arm into rescue him, I have to wonder: was this part of Eurus’ plan? It would seem that Gatiss and Moffat never considered this aspect since there’s no mention or attempt to address this situation. If Euris is a genius, “incandescent” mastermind then she clearly she isn’t that clever because she seemingly didn’t know about this (then again, she may not care, and she might’ve been none the wiser; once again, it remains unaddressed). Yet this doesn’t really account for how conveniently it does fit into Mary’s request (and how easily it coincides with Eurus’ game of emotional manipulation); so it was intentional? This seems like a writer’s paradox; where the end fits the story, but only through the convenience of two separate narratives. Eurus may or may not have known about Mary’s request, it may or may not have been a coincidence, Eurus may have goaded Sherlock into Culverton’s death trap and she may have simply wanted him and Watson to solve the case, no strings attached; and yet for all these questions, which I’m sure there will be plenty more with deeper inspection, none are answered and none are technically raised, they’re disappointingly left unconsidered.

Perhaps that’s the keyword for reviewing season 4: unconsidered.