| An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
There are certainly dangers in life when confronted with trauma and tragedy, and if there is an inability to move on and forgive there is real pain and sorrow. This subject matter is full front with the movie Manchester by the Sea, and is presented in a surprisingly real and sometimes very funny way. It could have easily taken place anywhere in the world, not necessarily in one particular small town in one particular part of the nation. The Boston-Manchester setting works to its advantage in its subtle handling of the culture, right down to the look, feel, and taste of the area. The much-needed emphasis on father and son bonding through the quietness of fishing bookends the film with the one single image that defines everything valued by the people who live there.
What makes this such a fascinating drama is the study of a tortured soul facing his demons. It’s a stunning performance from Casey Affleck who shows great maturity and sensitivity in his portrayal of Lee. This is a character so full of self-loathing and bent on self-destruction, so consumed by shame and hurt, but is determined to do the right thing despite the turmoil this brings. He could almost be Shakespearean such is the tragedy that defines him. This is a character so compelling to watch, the audience could be on the verge of heartbreak in any given scene, and the audience’s resolve is severely tested towards the end of the film during a conversation with his ex-wife played by Michelle Williams.
But I also found myself quite enjoying the performance given by Lucas Hedges. He has made appearances past films like Wes Anderson’s fantastic film ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, but this truly is his breakout performance. He was perfectly cast as this character who has begun to focus on women and teenage issues, all while being torn apart by the loss of his father. The chemistry between Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges is definitely something worth talking about.
Writer and Director, Kenneth Lonergan, deserves all the nominations and awards he has and is yet to receive. With a clear eye and astute observation for complex characteristics and emotional catalysts, he combines a myriad of familial complications and pitfalls into a wonderfully sensitive story that tells of love, loss, joy and pain. With a running time of over 2.15 hours, some may feel that this story is too long, but given the complexities and development of the characters and their relationships, it felt perfectly pitched and elegantly told. Accompanied by an almost operatic score that enhances the drama and sense of tragedy.
“I’m just a backup.”
The story is very well told, no matter who you are, there is guaranteed to be something within Manchester by the Sea that you can relate to on a personal level. Whether that be hitting your head on the freezer door, forgetting where you park your car or awkward family dinners or conversations, the screenplay features many little details that all work in part to make the film a completely immersive and human story. There is always a sense of heart within the film as even the darkest and most emotional moments are all handled sensibly leading to some beautiful sorrow and hilariously dark humor. The tone is quite inconsistent but it never becomes too distracting as new layers of meaning and emotion are revealed throughout. There are scenes of gut wrenching tragedy and ironic comedy within seconds of each other, making for some choked-up chuckles, but nonetheless a memorable experience.
On the other hand, the cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes is fine at best and that really disappointed me. It does have a focus on the little quirks one might find in a small New England town, but it didn’t really blow me away as it mostly gives the movie a dull “digital camera” look.
Manchester by the Sea is not an easy watch, and Lonergan doesn’t pull any punches in his directing. But if you love great acting and a well thought out script, than this is the feature to keep any eye out this awards season. I’m glad Casey Affleck is finally getting his due, his performance of a man trying to close himself out of all the grief, is astounding. It may be the best performance of the year.
‘Manchester By The Sea’ gets a 9.0/10.
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!