A simply faultless film, Manchester by the Sea is an emotional and powerful slice of realism.
From the opening moments of Manchester by the Sea, it’s immediately obvious that this is a film of meticulous detail and craftsmanship. As Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) banters away with his brother and nephew on board the family boat, the humanity of the film begins to seep in and sweep over the piece, so much so that by the time the credits roll, Manchester by the Sea has transcended cinema.
After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee, a simple janitor living in Quincy, must return to his hometown of Manchester to face the loss, the people, the town, and all the hardships and emotions that come with it. Most notably, he must also become the legal guardian for his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
A larger emotional scope you will likely not see this year in film, Manchester by the Sea is a journey of epic emotional proportions; you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be hit with gut punch after gut punch, leaving you stunned. But stunning is the perfect way to describe this film, from the acting, to the cinematography, to the dialogue, to the editing, Manchester by the Sea is an outstanding piece of cinema. The film is centered around Casey Affleck’s Lee and his performance is sheer perfection. Affleck does not put a foot wrong as Lee, a man disillusioned with life and struggling with inner demons. As Lee’s story and past become clearer, Affleck builds his performances demonstrating subtleties and nuances to great effect, but throughout he conveys tragic emotional torment and a world-weariness.
Affleck is incredible. But he is not alone in this department. Young Lucas Hedges truly shines as Patrick, he hits many similar beats to Affleck but bears a charm and likability to his performance and character that provides some light in and among the largely bleak and downbeat themes and stories of the film. His chemistry with Affleck is both charming and wholly believable in every way; the duo are engrossing. Whilst playing smaller roles, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler both bring heart and humanity to the film and their roles, the sheer emotion that courses through the veins of Manchester by the Sea is only heightened and channeled by this stellar cast.
What makes Manchester by the Sea feel so different is how the simplistic story plays out. This isn’t your standard narrative that moves forward from an equilibrium to a problem, to a resolution or climax. It’s more a slice of humanity and snapshot of life than it is a film. There is no emotional manipulation or jarring exposition or flaws to throw it off, the film just simply… is. Really there’s no better way to describe. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan crafts the movie with such simplicity, heart and realism that this feels like more of a real life observation than fiction. The dialogue and interactions between the characters just feel so real, the responses and reactions to certain occurrences just feel so real and the way the narrative progresses just feels so damn real! As Lee’s past is revealed, we understand fully how and why he is what he is, it’s just so believable and understandable that this character comes to life so fully. There are no two-dimensional characters in Manchester by the Sea, there are no paper settings or people, this is life and this is real.
An Ordinary People for the 21st century, Manchester by the Sea is staggeringly beautiful, emotional and real. Lonergan is a master of his craft and his actors showcase a masterclass in acting. There is simply nothing to fault here – Manchester by the Sea is a triumph for the ages.
Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is distributed in the UK by Amazon Studios, certificate 15.