If anything, this film is going to dominate the best acting Oscars.
Manchester by the Sea (2016) is a drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. It stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a lonely handyman who is forced to move back to his hometown of Manchester when his brother (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies. While trying to deal with all the reasons he left, Lee discovers his brother has named him the sole guardian of his fifteen year old son Patrick completely without his knowledge and completely against his wishes.
As my opening line indicates, this is a performance film over anything else. No musical numbers, no CGI aliens, no imaginary creatures – this is all about authentic people pretending to be authentic people. And in that regard, Manchester by the Sea is more authentic than any other film I’ve seen in 2016.The movie is so horrendously raw with emotion and depression, completely unable to escape the overbearing burden of reality we feel every day. Granted, that does mean Manchester feels more like a slice of life than two hours of escapism, but hey, if you want to feel the oppressive weight of tragedy for entertainment, this is the experience for you.
At the core of Manchester‘s grim demeanour is the performance given by Casey Affleck. A strong front-runner to win Best Actor at the moment, its easy to see why considering the weighty character on display here for Affleck work with. Its a nuanced, emotional and complex performance that never loses its strong foundation in realism. He also plays exceptionally well off Lucas Hedges’ Patrick, who also gives a performance that almost rivals Affleck in emotion and weight as the teenager coping with the loss of his father and new guardian that obviously doesn’t want him. Special mention should also go to Michelle Williams as Chandler’s ex-wife who its great throughout but completely steals the spotlight for a single scene that will hopefully be enough for her to at least have a shot at the Best Supporting Oscar.
This is all supported by a nuanced and grounded script that gives the actors plenty to work with. Its quite intricately woven as well, as the film jumps between the past and present without warning the entire way through, but never feels too difficult to follow. Both time periods are distinct, and elevate one another with some very effective cross-cutting. The only frustrating thing about the screenplay is that doesn’t quite stick the ending. Instead of a definitive conclusion, the final minutes feel more like a bookmark on an ongoing story, which may support the ‘slice of life’ approach the movie is taking but means the film ends on a muted murmur rather than a heavy thud that left me feeling sorely underwhelmed.
Another couple of minor issues aside, like a score that sometimes doesn’t gel and a few minor characters that feel underused/uninteresting, Manchester by the Sea is basically a very capable and solidly made drama. While the authenticity of the movie will irk some viewers and the ending is a let-down, its still heartbreaking story done justice.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended