Review: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea

Rating

Director

Kenneth Lonergan

Screenplay

Kenneth Lonergan

Length

137 min.

Starring

Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, C.J. Wilson, Ben O’Brien

MPAA Rating

R for language throughout and some sexual content

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Soundtrack

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Review

Some people meet their emotions head on. Others flee in hopes of never having to confront them. In Manchester by the Sea, escape becomes impossible.

Casey Affleck stars as a Boston transplant brought back to his home town of Manchester to deal with the passing of his brother and the son he leaves behind. As he tries to cope with his own inadequacies as a parent, he struggles to find a way to help his nephew endure the pain of loss while having locked his own deep inside.

Affleck’s Lee Chandler is conflicted about the death of his brother a man whom he respects, but also has failed to live up to. Affleck’s personal failings have become a source of distance as Lee struggles to accept that he’s been made guardian of his late brother’s son Patrick’s (Lucas Hedges). Those emotions prevent him from being able to handle Patrick as he lashes out at those around him, unable himself to deal with his father’s death or the selfishness of his uncle when dealing with the potential of their eventual co-habitation.

The issues become worse as Patrick wants to stay in Manchester to finish out school while Lee wants to uproot the both of them and return to Boston where he can continue to avoid his deficiencies.

While the story is simple, the complexity of emotion is immense. You have a son grieving his father and avoiding his feelings any way he possibly can; you have a brother plagued by memories of his past that directly prevent him from forming the type of connections that would enable him to overcome his grief; and you have a pair of ex-wives, both with demons, who must find ways to handle their own losses and frailties.

Affleck is a strong, emotional presence in the film, letting the audience get under his character’s skin even if the character won’t let anyone around him do so. He’s both head strong and vulnerable, but never unrealistically, exposing grief and diffidence.

Hedges takes Affleck’s performance and picks up the emotional deficiencies and embodies them in his own performance. The familial similarity in methods of avoidance exposes a potential path down which Hedges will follow not unlike Affleck’s unless Affleck can snap out of it and push him in a different direction. The family resemblance in terms of emotional avoidance is evident in Hedges’ performance, even though it’s coming from an inherently more positive family life with his coping mechanisms slightly more healthy.

In her all-too-brief role, Michelle Williams delivers a powerful performance as one of Affleck’s exes. Her late-film confrontation is a powerful piece of performance, one that Affleck thankfully avoids getting in the way of. The rest of the cast is fine in minimal roles.

Director Kenneth Lonergan, working from his own screenplay, understands how to let his actors tell the story, keeping the camera steady and focused on the raw emotions being put forth. His screenplay is densely concentrated on these moments, giving us a story that is confined, yet broadly relatable. While the film never strikes out as something meant to be revelatory in its style, it is no less impactful in terms of its storytelling and performance.

Manchester by the Sea is a potent family drama that exposes the parallels between distant relations and the struggles of the insecure to come to terms with the past. It’s a film that presents potent and evocative themes even if it’s a tradition-bound production.

Oscar Prospects (made prior to Oscar nominations)

Guarantees: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay
Probables: Director, Supporting Actress, Film Editing
Potentials: Original Score

Review Written

September 18, 2018

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