Being the heartless, cold-blooded monster that I am, it’s extremely rare for me to find a film that I connect with on an emotional level. As much as I loved Chazelle’s La La Land, another film released this year that had many reaching for a box of Kleenex, I never understood the opinion shared by many that it was an emotionally turmoiled film. That being said, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea almost had me. If the truth be told, I haven’t been so truly moved by a film since Coogler’s Fruitvale Station.
After the death of his brother, Lee Chandler is asked to become a guardian to his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). We are first introduced to Casey Affleck’s Lee right from the offset, and you acquire the immediate impression that something just isn’t right with this guy. Much like The Dude in the Coen brothers’ masterpiece The Big Lebowski, Lee is cool, calm and collective; not giving a shit about anything or anyone. But most importantly, he appears to be dry and defeated, with an air of malevolence surrounding his past. As the narrative unravels the emotion starts to rise, and we start to discover the devastating truths that plague the central character.
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, this is a film that’s grounded firmly with immaculate realism, achieved primarily by the emphatic duo of the impressive script and terrific performances on offer. Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges’s on-screen relationship is not one that you’d expect, nor is it one you’d want, but it’s undeniably one that you can admire. Affleck and his co-star are resoundingly successful in bringing forward performances that help guide the narrative along with both confidence and ease, and when they’re on screen together, you’re guaranteed either a chuckle or a hearty sob. The narrative between the two mainly consists of taxiing around Manchester and calling each other assholes, but as we discover, it’s a friendship that defies all odds and strengthens the humanity of the characters.
As it’s awards season, with the Golden Globes just gone and the Academy Awards just around the corner, it would be unfeasible to ignore the truly wonderful performances that this film showcases, including Hedges and Michelle Williams for sure, but it’s unquestionable that Casey Affleck steals the show here. Despite brilliant portrayals in titles such as Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, his role as the degenerative and beaten Lee is one that will stand the test of time. He expertly handles humour and melancholy and propels the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotions, something that can also be attributed with Affleck’s connection with Lonergan’s powerful writing.
The most harrowing of scenes, from the discussion between Lee and the police, and his reunion with his ex-wife after the events of an unspeakable and unfathomable tragedy give the film a real punch-in-the-gut effect upon the viewer. There’s moments where you’re laughing, but more often than not there’s moments where you’re gobsmacked, unable to come to terms with what’s being projected from the big screen. Helped by the seamless editing by Jennifer Lame, Manchester By The Sea is a tragic story that progresses effortlessly, handling the non-linearity of the narrative so well that it’s almost unnoticeable. The frequent flashbacks are a key component of the film that help to unravel Lee’s past, and whilst more often than not the use of flashbacks can be seen as forced exposition, here it’s remarkably incorporated; and is one of the film’s many effective accomplishments.
Manchester By The Sea doesn’t have a finishing point or a satisfying denouement, nor does it deserve one. This is a personal account of one man and his encounter with a catastrophic chain of events, a story of human nature and human consequences. It’ll leave you in tears, but more to the point, it’ll leave you in complete astonishment over Lonergan’s sublime direction, and the cast’s equally phenomenal performances.
Heart-wrenching, tragic…but expertly crafted.