MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges
Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges star in the new Kenneth Lonergan masterpiece, “Manchester by the Sea.” Lonergan creates a realistic story revolving around loss, love, and responsibility as Lee (Affleck) learns of the death of his brother and is now charged with the responsibility of caring for his nephew, Patrick (Hedges). Nothing is as simple as it appears as Lee has obvious guilt and remorse for an incident that drove him away from his hometown. The story is a beautiful,deep, and sometimes harsh look into emotions and relationships.
Masterfully telling a story while creatively using a non-linear form takes an extraordinary writer and director. Lonergan does this with ease. We know from the beginning that Lee is carrying a heavy emotional load, but what and why remains to be revealed. We get a glimpse into the drudgery of his life—the routine of being a janitor and the lack of any happiness frequently elicits angry outbursts that appear inexplicable, initially. When Lee gets the phone call that his brother has passed away, his lack of emotion also is puzzling, but we find ourselves back in time when the two brothers and Patrick have a wonderfully full and ordinary life. The timeline continues to bounce back and forth, allowing us to get to know Lee and what is inside that baggage he drags with him every day of his life.
The relationship between Lee and Patrick is a complex one as Lee finds himself dealing with more than he can handle. Patrick, a typical teen yet one who is much more insightful and intelligent than you’d expect for his age, manipulates his uncle to add a touch of humor to the story, but he also allows us to see his pain and uncertainty. His openness with Lee creates such raw feelings that our heart breaks. And Lee’s lack of communication actually balances the two extraordinarily. Lee may not say as much verbally, but his expressions and body language say it all. We are committed to these characters, empathizing with them, and understanding each and every decision whether we agree with it or not.
There are a few separate yet intertwining story lines occurring in “Manchester by the Sea.” A pivotal relationship is Lee and Randi’s (Williams) marriage. At one time, they seemed to have been happy with three little ones to fill the house. It wasn’t a storybook marriage. It felt real. And it’s obvious that something horrible happened as the two are now divorced. Again, flashing back to long segments of memories, these times are captured allowing us to understand why Lee is the way he is.
This is a complicated story of human emotion and how we grieve and deal with guilt yet still have to forge ahead and live. To what extent is the question. Finding the right cast to bring such core feelings to life is of utmost importance and Lonergan’s choices are stellar. Affleck’s performance is one of the most subtle and powerful portrayals of such a rich character that you could imagine. Every movement, gesture, and slight facial expression paints a thousand words. Never before have I experienced such sympathy and occasionally empathy with a character on the screen. It’s one of the most skilled and nuanced performances this year. Williams, although not on screen a significant amount of time, has such as an evocative execution of her very important character. Her interactions and verbal exchanges pack a powerful punch as we see what she is and has been experiencing. Hedges rounds out this ensemble cast with an equally skilled performance. He’s reactive and in tune with not only his surroundings and his role, but also with his cast members. You may not recognize this young talent, but I guarantee, you will. Chandler is ever the cornerstone of any film, bringing to the screen a genuine portrayal of a man and father just living his life with all its ups and downs. This cast, the directing, and the powerful script gives us a sense of reality in lives we truly grow to care about. At times, it’s gut-wrenching, and at others it’s heartbreaking and even occasionally comical, but it is always so very genuine and real.
“Manchester by the Sea” is a masterpiece of art, conveying such depth of character and story as it touches upon our most basic needs, desires, and how we cope. With complicated characters that typify each of us in some way, this film is a beautiful pallet of human emotion, cutting deep inside our heart and soul.
I fully intend to see a few Oscar nods for this film! Don’t miss it!
10 REELS out of 10