LFF Review: Manchester by the Sea

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Emotionally overwhelming

This indie drama will force you to ask questions throughout, but will leave you overwhelmed and emotional for all the right reasons.

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Manchester by the Sea is a truly special creation- a rare and unique film which captures the nuances of life perfectly. It is a devastating, yet truly touching story of a man who struggles with himself and with unimaginably difficult circumstances.

The film follows the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a damaged man who struggles in social situations and rarely shows emotion. Yet flashbacks of a happier time portray what seems to be a completely a different person, leaving us to question what turned this loving family man who was so full of life, into a taciturn introvert. Following the sudden death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), Lee discovers that he has been appointed the role of legal guardian for his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). As a man with practically nothing, it’s difficult not to question why this is such a difficult decision for Lee, but as the narrative unfolds it’s clear that he has experienced trauma in his life which will never leave him.

Manchester by the Sea is beautifully subtle in every way. The use of flashbacks leaves us asking questions about what happens in the transition between the then and now. As well as this, Director Kenneth Lonergan uses simple conversations which can last an entire scene, but are just completely absorbing. The dialogue has not been written to please audiences, but to tell the truth. This story is proof that a film doesn’t need car chases and explosions to grab your attention. So much is kept from us that we are forced to pay careful attention to every word and every conversation. Lonergan is one of a handful of directors who trusts his audience to make assumptions and allows us to try and pick apart the story. We don’t need to be told that Patrick’s mother is an unstable alcoholic; we can infer it ourselves based on the small glimpses we are given. The same applies for many other aspects of the story.

The tension in some scenes is just palpable, and it’s incredible to think that this is actually just acting. Casey Affleck delivers a career defining performance, in which he so faithfully commits to the role; he really does become Lee Chandler. He clearly touches on the darkest parts of his psyche to pull off this performance, in which he barely has the will to speak, and struggles to string even one sentence together when talking to strangers. This performance requires so little and yet so much to make it convincing, and Affleck delivers so much more than an audience could ever expect. Come award season, Affleck will certainly be recognised for his standout performance.

Other notable performances include Lucas Hedges, who wonderfully captures youth, and handles the death of his father with tangible realism. The chemistry between Hedges and Affleck is fantastic; they are two actors perfectly suited to their roles. The other hidden gem of a performance is that of Michelle Williams who plays Lee’s ex-wife. Although it starts off low-key, she completely takes you by surprise and unexpectedly breaks your heart. The emotional rawness in each of the performances is so special and so impressive in their own right.

The film’s structure and its performances really are what makes it the fantastic story that it is. A film with so much subtly and so much power is not easy to describe. It’s a film which has to be felt, as well as seen. Manchester by the Sea is more powerful than you could ever anticipate, and more moving than you could ever imagine.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is being shown as part of the 2016 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the festival including screening times and ticket information can be found here.

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Former Film Editor for The Edge, second year history student, Irish dancer and film enthusiast. My biggest inspiration is by Bear Grylls. Yes Bear Grylls. Originally from West London.

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