Posts Tagged ‘Lucas Hedges’

As I’m sure I’ve probably said, the films that get released around this time of year generally tend to fall into a few specific types. You know what I mean – prestigious literary adaptations, stirring true stories from history, omphaloskeptic celebrations of the movie industry itself, and so on. And then of course there is the serious contemporary drama category, which is frankly not short of material at the moment. We’ve recently discussed Bombshell, which deals with current issues surrounding gender politics, and also Just Mercy, which takes as its topic racial inequality in American society. As noted, my inclination was to rather cynically dismiss the latter film as an exercise in box-ticking.

Also out at the moment is Waves, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. Shults was also in charge of the uncomfortable-to-watch post-horror movie It Comes at Night, which was probably very good (I was seeing it under less than optimal conditions); the new movie sees him raise his game to a whole new level, though.

Again, based on the advertising, I was inclined to dismiss Waves as another pretty calculated piece of work: another film about the Black experience in contemporary America. The trailer made it look very much as though this was a film following in the wake of Moonlight (which I thought was okay, but not as great as all that) – artily independent, where a film like Just Mercy is solid studio fare.

(You know, anything I say about the actual story of Waves is probably going to lessen the impact of the film; the sheer sense of dislocation produced by not knowing quite where it is going – but fearing the worst – was an essential part of my experience of seeing it. So I would almost suggest you skip the next couple of paragraphs and start reading again after the poster. Or even just skip the rest of this review and find a cinema showing this film: it’s well worth your time, and quite possibly one of the films of the year.)

The film begins by introducing us to the Williams family, affluent African-Americans living in Florida. They have a very nice house, with the parents (father and step-mother) running their own business; the son and daughter are successful both in school and socially. But Ronald, the father (Sterling K Brown), believes in tough love: he pushes his son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr) particularly hard, believing that the nature of the world demands it. For his part, Tyler seems to accept this, to begin with at least.

But then gradually, and almost imperceptibly at first, pressures start to mount up on Tyler. A member of the school wrestling team, he ends up badly damaging his shoulder, and starts taking painkillers to cope with it. The habit grows. At the same time, his long-term girlfriend discovers that she is pregnant. Tyler is only eighteen; he does not cope well with this, he makes some very bad decisions. As a result the whole family is affected and almost torn apart. Can his parents and sister (Taylor Russell) come to terms with the aftermath of what happens?

The first part of the film builds up to a horrible incident, the kind of thing that gets briefly mentioned on the news as a one or two-line item. What Shults does is show us the people and emotions involved in it and how they ended up in that place, transforming it from an ugly example of what’s wrong with society today into a genuine human tragedy. This doesn’t make it any easier to watch, of course. As the story develops it has that slow-motion car-crash feel to it. You know that this is building up to something dreadful, but you can’t look away as the events of the film unfold.

However, not knowing quite how long a film is going to be can sometimes lead to interesting experiences, and I was a little startled when what I anticipated would be a brief coda to the film’s story of one person’s tragic fall from grace turned out to be the start of a whole new section of the movie. The tone and focus of this is quite different: it is less intense, much lighter and more gentle. The change of gear is a startling one, but Shults makes it work. I imagine it is the first half of Waves that audiences will find seared into their memories, but it is the second which gives the film its scope and depth.

Again, this is on some level a film about race in America – were Tyler’s father not such a hard taskmaster to him, the story might have a very different outcome, but Ronald sees himself as having no option given the extra challenges they face as African Americans – but only tangentially so. It works so well because it is about recognisable and believeable people, and as such it benefits greatly from a terrific set of performances, mainly from the family members (in addition to Harrison, Russell, and Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry plays the stepmother), but also Lucas Hedges and Alexa Demie.

However, for all the power of the story (which is considerable), what really gives the film its impact is a bravura directing job by Shults himself. The movie opens with a sequence which lights up the screen with colour and movement, the kind of thing that would surely count as showing off if it weren’t so clearly a considered piece of work. Throughout it is vibrant and colourful without ever seeming garish or lurid; choices which might seem affected – at a few key points, scene transitions take the form of swirls of colour filling the screen – are somehow absolutely of a piece with the rest of the movie.

In short, I liked Waves much more than Moonlight; I liked it much more than most films I have seen recently. ‘Liked’ is a funny word to use, for this is a serious and intense film, and not easy to watch in places – but its pace and vitality keep it very watchable, and the manner in which it resolves means it does not come across as something wholly downbeat and depressing. I am genuinely surprised this film has not received much greater acclaim and awards recognition, for it is a hugely impressive movie, and I am very curious to see what Trey Edward Shults does next.

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In the great firmament of Hollywood stars, Casey Affleck has always been the equivalent of Sirius B: which is not to say that he is actually a dwarf, just that it has been very easy to overlook him given that his big brother is an acclaimed actor, screenwriter, director, and Batman. This may be about to change, for Affleck Minor is attracting a lot of attention for his formidably accomplished performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea.


What’s that you cry? Manchester isn’t by the sea. Manchester is only really noted for its ship canal (and its cotton industry and football teams and history as both a musical powerhouse and a trainer of first-rate EFL teachers). Well, thing is, it ain’t that Manchester; the film is concerned with Manchester-by-the-Sea, which apparently really is the name of a small town in Massachusetts.

Or perhaps I should say it’s concerned with a small group of former and current inhabitants of the town, primarily Lee (Affleck Minor), who as the story starts is working as a janitor in the greater Boston area. We are shown some of the day-to-day of Lee’s routine, and it gradually becomes apparent that while he appears quiet and unremarkable, Lee is actually a fairly heavy-duty piece of work, responding quickly and with violence (verbal and physical) to anyone who pushes him.

Not the most sympathetic of characters, then, even when he is summoned home to Manchester after his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suffers a heart attack and passes away. This does not come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows the family, but what is a little startling – to Lee, anyway – is that Joe’s will makes him the legal guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Quite apart from everything else, taking on this role will either mean moving Patrick to Boston, an idea he fiercely resists, or Lee’s moving back to Manchester – something he is equally against. He has history and a rather black reputation in this town, and there is also the presence of his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), with whom he has a strained relationship, to say the least…

I’m curious to see how well Manchester by the Sea does when the awards season really gets going in earnest, for while it certainly deserves to be in contention for major prizes, I suspect many people will be in the mood for a slightly more hopeful narrative, and perhaps one less ballasted with reality, than we get here. Make no mistake, this is a very fine film, but it’s a pint of bitter rather than a cocktail. It fits seamlessly into a tradition of gritty narratives about life in small-town, blue-collar America, and much about the structure and subject matter of the piece is rather theatrical – I can imagine a lengthy process of everyone developing their characters together, improvising, working out the story, even though for all I know every single word was scripted by Lonergan well in advance of production.

As a result this is a film driven by character and atmosphere rather than incident, and there are the kind of discursive scenes you don’t tend to find in much genre cinema: a group of teenagers argue about whether Star Trek is any good or not, people go fishing together, and there’s quite a long scene where two characters forget where they parked and wander about trying to find their car. It’s all quite naturalistic – a distinct lack of non-diegetic music, except at key moments in the story – but the characters are vividly drawn and very engaging. I baulked a bit at seeing the nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time for this film, but while I was watching found that it didn’t drag at all, despite the illusion of not very much seeming to happen.

As you might expect, this is really an actor’s movie, and primarily Affleck Minor’s. This is not to say that Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and particularly Lucas Hedges are not very good indeed, it’s just that they have limited screen time in secondary roles (also turning up for an unexpected but well-executed cameo is Matthew Broderick, who I didn’t think I’d seen on the big screen – or indeed any other kind of screen – since Godzilla – clearly I’ve bleached the remake of The Stepford Wives from my memory core. Consider your penance served, Matt, it’s nice to see you again away). The film is Affleck’s, for it essentially concerns a particular kind of inarticulate masculinity of which his character is the chief exponent. Many of the scenes just concern men failing to quite connect with each other, with the story developing in the interstices between their personalities, and Affleck does an exemplary job of suggesting character without once being caught acting.

Much of the film’s drama and emotion comes from Lee’s past and his inability to process it, while much of its warmth and humour arise out of his attempts to take on an avuncular role for which he is really very ill-equipped. It says something for Affleck Minor’s achievement that he takes a character who initially comes across as an alarming loner with a hair-trigger temper and makes you care for him as a sympathetic, almost heroic figure, and does this without recourse to histrionics or cheap sentiment. If in the end he remains all too human, well, that’s part of what the film is about, which is the realities of life and emotion.

But, as I say, do audiences and awards juries really want reality right at this moment in time? I doubt it, somehow. (And exactly do you compare, for instance, Affleck Minor’s superbly actorly performance here with Goosey-Goosey Gosling’s brilliant song-and-dance turn in La La Land?) Nevertheless, this is a superbly well-made film and a very rewarding one to watch.


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