Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Lee Chandler (Affleck), lives a lonely and simplistic life as a handyman in Boston. However, after the death of his brother Joe (Chandler), with Lee named as the legal guardian to Joe’s 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee is forced to return to his hometown and face some tragic memories of his past while also caring for his adolescent nephew.
From its trailer, complete with its Damien Rice song, it would be very easy to just disregard Manchester by the Sea is an overly melodramatic, schmaltzy and cynical Oscar-bait film. Well, it most definitely isn’t, and the undeniable fact is that the film’s main qualities are difficult to capture in a trailer. At 137 minutes, Kenneth Lonergan’s film is very much a slow-burn, character driven film that needs such a long (and justifiable) running time to develop both its characters and its key themes properly.
Manchester by the Sea is an incredible film that is deeply engaging from start to finish, and despite the slow pace and long running time, it never gets boring, or feels over bloated or over long. Every scene justifies itself perfectly within the context of the narrative, whether this be dark revelations about a character’s past, or someone simply wondering around trying to remember where they parked their car. One of the main reasons why Manchester by the Sea is such an engaging drama is that is not afraid to examine some very pertinent and relatable aspects of the human condition, but as its narrative presentation is so grounded in reality, it is also often laugh out loud funny.
However, the film’s more comedic moments are about context (as is most comedy), and only enhance our ability to relate to the narrative and its characters, as life is filled with both tragic and comic moments. The comedy in Manchester by the Sea is very much understated, subtle and very much about context, and so would therefore be impossible to include in a trailer in a particularly effective way, as comedy can only really be depicted in a trailer by punchlines or physical gags, and this is most definitely not a film that has those, and quite right too!
These great comedic moments only ever feel appropriate (in the context of the narrative) and never undermine the more serious themes at the heart of the narrative. Manchester by the Sea is indeed very much a cathartic viewing experience as it examines themes of loss, grief, connection, love, the importance of family and dealing with the ghosts of the past. As both the sole writer and director of the film, Kenneth Lonergan is very much in control of his film, and skilfully develops Lee’s character with flashbacks to the previous life he led before he left his hometown, while the current narrative develops at an intentionally measured pace.
The protagonist of Lee is very much a deeply flawed character, with as many faults as qualities, but that is what makes him so relatable and engaging, as this is very much one of the aspects of the human condition. There will be some various aspects of Lee’s individual personality and story that will resound with every viewer, and it is impossible not to deeply care about him and want to him find some catharsis in life, even he also has many infuriating character traits.
As Lee, Casey Affleck is exceptional, he truly becomes his character, making Lee a genuinely believable character that we can all relate to in some way, as there will be aspects of his own personal flaws that we will see as mirror-like reflection of our own. Lee is not a particularly intelligent or eloquent man, and certainly lacks a lot of the more supposedly basic social skills, but these are never overplayed, and only serve to make him even more sympathetic and engaging.
The supporting cast are also excellent, with Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges being exceptional in their respective roles which play a vital role in both the narrative and the journey of Lee’s character. In fact, Lonergan’s script is so rich that even characters that get one scene are memorable and unique in a certain way. Manchester by the Sea is the kind of film where, despite the long running time, we just want to spend more time with the characters, as they are all relatable, interesting and often a little quirky, as the people we know in real life also tend to be.
Another main character of the narrative is of course the town of Manchester, and the fact the film is set during the particularly harsh winters that the town apparently has certainly adds more visual poignancy to the film. Throughout the film Lonergan captures beautiful shots of this quiet and seemingly quite isolated and desolate costal town beautifully, which makes the film feel very cinematic without ever feeling like style over substance or self-indulgent.
Manchester by the Sea ultimately focusses on that one main element that is so important for a film to really resonate with the viewer; characters. This is a film of rich emotional depth to truly get lost in, a film that examines so many emotive themes it will resonate with all viewers and stay in their memory long after the credits have finished rolling. This is a film that undoubtedly deserves to win awards.
A deeply engaging and unforgettable viewing experience of countless emotions; Manchester by the Sea is a skilfully written, directed and acted film that perfectly judges its themes and the tone of which it presents them. Oh, if only all films were made like this!
One of the films I definitely need to watch soon. Great review!
Thanks your write up suggests this would be my type of film. I once had family connections in Boston, so I’ll try and see it.