Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler
Running Time: 135mins
Manchester by the Sea is not an easy film to watch, the emotions stay with you, haunting you as your mind goes over the events of the story that you have just experienced. And it is an experience. You are thrown into this world almost straight away and you just have to try to keep your head above the water.
We start off by meeting Lee Chandler who is working as a building supervisor/janitor, in Boston, as he works hard to fix and help the residents of the buildings that he looks after. However, there is something missing in all these interactions and it is that Lee isn’t allowing himself to form any kind of relationship wth these people and further down the line we find out why.
A life changing call comes in and Lee finds out that his brother, Joe, has had a fatal heart attack, and in the situation of Joe’s ex-wife being estranged it is up to Lee to plug the parental gap in Patrick, his nephew’s, life. This brings Lee back into the fold of his old hometown of the title. As we progress following Lee, we are shown flashbacks to his past and these, little by little, fill in the little gaps and answer some of the questions that build up.
The interaction between Lee and Patrick is really something, both are obviously suffering from the loss of Joe but both are not fully accepting or dealing with the situation at hand. As the enormity of the situation slowly dawns on Lee he struggles to find a solution that works for everyone involved. It is obvious that he cares deeply for his nephew but so many things have happened that he has a hard time in expressing this. As we find out more about Lee we realise why he left Manchester in the first place and why he is emotionally guarded, why he doesn’t let himself feel.
This film is powerful, personal and thought provoking but yet light and this is mostly down to Lonergan’s writing. The dialogue works really well to emphasise the gulf between Lee and Patrick but also the familiarity of the bond that they share from the past. Casey Affleck gives an excellent portrayal of Lee and the weight of the past is always on him, defining his actions. Lucas Hedges as Patrick comes across as a teenager in all aspects. Awkward, petulant but also bouncy and remarkably resilient. He is effervescent for the most part, either taking it all within his stride or just trying to gloss over the real feelings that are hiding inside.
One of the main highlights of the film for me was Michelle Williams. She is absolutely superb in this for the limited time that she gets but what she is in she gets across so much emotion, particularly at the end of the film. Casey Affleck is also more than the little brother of someone more famous. It would be safe to say, in my opinion, that his highlight reel is becoming far more accomplished than that of his elder brother. He’s been in plenty of films now where he has been able to show his talents, and they are there. He seems to pick challenging roles and manages to embody the character superbly, and this is no exception. Lucas Hedges provides a great deal of the humour, as a teenager would, with quick remarks and verbal volleys but also the seeming contradiction to the situation where he is living his life as if nothing as happened.
Manchester by the Sea is by no means an emotionally easy film to watch, there are topics covered in here that hit you precisely where it hurts, but it is compelling and so real that you can’t help but be drawn into the journey that they go on. Align this with the excellent performances, fantastically realistic cinematography and great script and direction from Lonergan and you have a stunning piece of cinema.