Manchester By The Sea

2016 – USA

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges

Words: Josh Senior

By now you’ll probably already know that Casey Affleck won the award for Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards as well as sweeping up at The Golden Globes, The SAG Awards and The BAFTAS. Like The Revenant last year, Manchester By The Sea has acted as an awards behemoth and carried its leading man to storied heights. Casey Affleck has long been an accomplished actor, able of conveying a performance of subtle brilliance think; The Assassination of Jesse James, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints or Gone Baby Gone. Finally he is reaping the rewards for his years of hard work and dedication.

Manchester By The Sea is a poignant and focused study of the intensities of the grieving process. Affleck plays Lee, who has to return to the Manchester of the title, to care for his adolescent Nephew when his Brother dies of a rare heart condition. However Lee is weighed down by a dark and traumatic past which resurfaces when he is drawn for his solitary life and has to return home to face his demons. This is largely in part by him becoming legal guardian for his Nephew Patrick (an outstanding performance from Lucas Hedges), this duty pushes him back into a life he has tried to escape for so long. What initially seems like merely a sad tale about the harshness of life becomes an overwhelming onslaught of emotions, as we see in cleverly paced and timed flashbacks, the reasons behind Lee’s almost numb lack of awareness to the world around him.

It’s a hyper-real experience, and Manchester By The Sea is just that, an experience. This character’s story grips you emotionally from the offset, and engulfs you. Casey Affleck deserves all the credit for this in expressing this state of utter despair. We can all in some way relate to loss and grief, but to really make you feel something this intense is incredibly impressive, if uncomfortable viewing. In someone else’s hands this could have been distasteful almost, as it feels so painful and genuine. Thankfully Kenneth Lonergan manages to hit all the right beats in the narrative, it’s a truly astonishingly well written piece of cinema.

Similarly to last year’s Room, the film looks at the fall out of tragedy and trauma, and rather than focusing on the event itself for too long. It deals with the normality of life continuing in the face of darkness. Films usually end happy or sad, that’s a fact, we go to be entertained at the movies and we seek closure, but what Lonergan gives us here is a very condensed and accurate snapshot of a brief period in a man’s life as he has to deal with wave upon wave of personal loss. After all of the downs though the film does briefly  glimmer (very briefly might I add) with a slight aura of hope just as the credits role. The overarching message being, that by focusing on what positives we do have in life we can find a way to persevere. It’s harrowing yes, but also an uplifting experience, a true marvel of modern film-making.