Review: Manchester by the Sea
The latest film from award-winning writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me, Margaret), Manchester by the Sea concerns Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a reticent fixit man living in sullen loneliness, returning to his seaside New England hometown after being informed of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passing away from a fatal illness. Lee must tend to the affairs of his sibling and take guardianship of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), but holds no desire to remain in the area, as he is emotionally wounded and haunted by the events that caused him to leave years earlier.
While Kenneth Lonergan has only directed three films in the last sixteen years, he has proven to be a filmmaker worth giving a damn about, thanks to the richness in passion and technique on display in his work. Manchester by the Sea is no exception, and in many ways, represents the best of Lonergan’s abilities as a storyteller. The film doesn’t contain an abundance of overpowering sequences or surprise twists for that matter, what makes the film so special is how it acts as a collection of small events and actions that obtain stronger resonance over time. You won’t find any Oscar-clip ready speeches or monologues here, rather Manchester becomes a sensitively struggle of accepting the harsh realities that come in the wake of tragedy.
It’s the characters, and most certainly the acting at hand here that makes the film what it is. Casey Affleck gives a career best performance as Lee that is full of silent sorrow, where his emotions are suppressed in some instances but explode with a mighty furor in the next. His representation of a grief-stricken man plagued by his own past is devastating but all so entrancing at the same time.
The second largest part of the film comes from Lucas Hedges as Patrick, Lee’s nephew. Hedges has been seen in films by other major directors such as Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) and Terry Gilliam (The Zero Theorem), but here he gets the chance to really become a fully dimensional character, one that he fully gives himself towards. Patrick is your stereotypical alpha-male teenager, plays for his high school’s hockey team, has two girlfriends, and has the tendency to be severely aggravating. The difference between the two could not be more night and day, but their scenes together form the bulk of the story, and seeing how they influence each other’s development becomes a striking mix of distress, and deft humor. (While Manchester by the Sea is certainly a drama, there are some decidedly uproarious moments at hand, such as when Patrick uses Lee to distract his girlfriend’s mother while he tries to get to third base in her bedroom).
The other major players in the ensemble are Kyle Chandler as Lee’s recently deceased brother, appearing only in flashbacks segmented throughout the story, and Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex Randi, who only receives a small amount of screen-time, but is equally dynamic when sharing the screen with Affleck.
The marketing has largely focused on the film being a tour-de-force of sentiment, what really makes it special and unique is how accurate to life it is; having the highs mixed with the lows, and above all else providing a number of abrupt developments to soften the dourness of the story at hand. It would be best to experience Manchester completely blind, foregoing the trailer that gives away some of the best moments (the posters as well), for the maximum amount of appreciation.
Manchester by the Sea is a unique film for many reasons; it provides a snapshot of suffering at its most dire straits, and the means to accept the past and wrongful actions committed and find some degree of solace. It is tear-jerking at certain points (please bring tissues) and acts as a solemn reminder for cherishing the best things we have in life while we still have them. Since debuting at the Sundance Film Festival back in January it has been talked about incessantly as a key player in this year’s awards race, but now audiences get the chance to see for themselves what a masterpiece it really is, beyond award recognition. It’s not often that films that are this emotionally demanding and affecting come along, and for that, Manchester by the Sea demands your attention.