No other film in 2016 may be as gutting as “Manchester by the Sea.”
The Kenneth Lonergan-directed feature tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a man who just gets by on a day-to-day basis, working maintenance at a Boston suburb apartment building he also lives in.
He is called back to his home town, though, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., when he finds out that his brother passed away. As a result, Lee has to return to a city filled with painful memories and also be the guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
“Manchester by the Sea” is an astoundingly moving picture, with every scene being full of emotion as the lead characters navigate the grieving process. This process is both shown through Lee, who’s already a broken character with even more weight put on his shoulders and Patrick, who has to accept his father’s death while also trying to keep his composure and continue his teenage life.
The emotional weight of these two characters especially comes to the forefront through their tense interactions as well as important flashbacks interspersed throughout. Ultimately, it all comes together for a compelling and engaging look at loss and how life moves on after, even when it’s horribly difficult.
An aspect heavily involved in bringing this story to the screen successfully was the writing, also done by Lonergan. The script was phenomenal in how real it made everything feel. All of the dialogue feels entirely relatable, to where an audience can put themselves in the shoes of the characters. This ranges both from the more tragic and dramatic moments to simply some of the scenes featuring Patrick’s awkwardness as a teenager.
A lot of credit for “Manchester” can also go to Casey Affleck, who gives his best performance of his career so far. The things his character has gone through in life have completely broken him down, and Affleck effectively displays this on screen, with every bit of his delivery dripping with sadness, even when he’s trying to hold it together and stay composed.
This makes his scenes with Patrick even more heartfelt, as Lee truly cares for his nephew and wants to absolutely see what’s best for him no matter what, yet has constant frustrations from being back in his home town, since it gives him so much pain.
Hedges, meanwhile, fantastically portrays a teenager dealing with the loss of a parent. Patrick is left a bit lost with the death of his father, as he has some ideas of what he wants in his future but is also somewhat unsure of himself. This leads to him seeking somewhat of a father figure in Lee, but grows frustrated because of his uncle’s reserved nature. Hedges wonderfully nails these character traits, adding to the overall product.
Even the supporting cast works their magic in this film. Michelle Williams, for example, plays Lee’s ex-wife and while she doesn’t have too much screen time, her scenes are enormously powerful.
The technical aspects in “Manchester” are also great, such as where and when it was shot. Many scenes take place outside under a cloudy, overcast sky. It’s never storming and it’s not sunny, it’s somewhere in between, much how the characters are, in a state of gray.
Additionally, the camerawork is phenomenal. For example, there’s one scene with a long shot where the two lead characters are on a dock walking toward the camera, and the moment shows just how long the dock is. This scene, to me, represented the long journey these characters still have to make. This was just one of many great shots featured from start to finish.
“Manchester by the Sea” works on every level, taking audiences on a very real exploration of grieving. It’s easily one of the best pictures of the year. 5 out of 5.