Review: Manchester by the Sea

It’s unlikely by now that you won’t know what this film is, or at least have heard the name connected with its recent Golden Globes success for lead actor Casey Affleck but is it all it’s cracked up to be? Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret), following the death of his brother, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) must return home to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), forcing him to face his past while trying to figure out how to be a new guardian. Also starring: Michelle Williams, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Kara Hayward, Heather Burns and Anna Katerina Baryshnikov.

The most obvious place to start has to be with Affleck, having won the Globe he’s now the front runner for a nomination and win at the Oscars, and when you see his performance, it makes perfect sense. Watching Affleck as Lee is almost as if he’s constantly fighting himself, a mess of fear, tension, regret and sadness; it’s the type of performance that’s almost difficult to watch but ultimately you can’t look away because despite that inner struggle, he’s trying very hard to do the right thing. The second most talked about element of the film of course being his younger counterpart Lucas Hedges, the two of them together on screen is strangely great to watch because although it’s in horrible circumstances, the chemistry between the two of them comes across effortless. The connection between the two characters is full of a sarcastic back and forth as they both stumble through their situation, and an awkward sentimentality that neither of them know how to express without being entirely uncomfortable. The two of them and their relationship on screen is the heart of the film, it does have more to offer but that’s what keeps you watching. Williams is also doing well, garnering nominations on the awards circuit and her performance is definitely good, there’s emotion spilling out everywhere almost every time she appears on screen, sadly there just isn’t enough of those moments, her part is more limited than you’d expect but her performance is intense.

Intense is an appropriate word when talking about the film in general, it’s a very human story, dealing with emotion, loss and struggle which may be another one of those films that does require patience from its audience but that patience is eased considerably by how well written it is. The film manages to be funny, kind, heartbreaking and devastating within the space of a few minutes, it perfectly avoids being put into one box, yes it is a very sad film but it’s more than that. One major way it manages to do that is in its editing, constantly and often quite quickly, moving between moments of the past and the present, it provides context in a way which strengthens the story with more substance without having to distract from the main narrative. A story which is much more than meets the eye and the more you learn, the deeper you’re pulled in.

Usually with a film like this it would likely bring to mind the phrase, “It’s not an easy watch” but it’s actually not a difficult watch either, it requires a little commitment but it’s more than worth it. It’s a very human, heartbreaking, emotional, tense and real story that will linger in your mind, both the humorous and the sad moments.

Verdict: 8.5/10


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