It’s been a frustratingly long wait for me to finally watch Manchester by the Sea. Upon its release back in January, it was playing in hardly any accessible cinemas, a tremendous shame, given its huge critical acclaim that surrounded it. And that acclaim came to fruition at the Academy Awards, with the film receiving the Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Affleck) and Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan). Having now seen the film on Blu-Ray, I can safely say that Manchester by the Sea will unquestionably be in contention for the best film of 2017.
The film tells the story of a janitor in Quincy, named Lee (Affleck), a severely depressed and antisocial individual who seems disconnected from the rest of society. One day at work, Lee receives a phone call telling him that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has been rushed to hospital. Unfortunately, Lee arrives too late, as Joe has passed away. Following this, Lee visits his old town Manchester by the Sea, where he must care for his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). To Lee’s complete surprise, he discovers that Joe has left him in the role as Patrick’s guardian. From this point forward, the narrative explores Lee’s tortured past, as well as his relationships with his estranged relatives and ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), generating a heavy hitting, gut wrenching emotional drama.
Going into a film like Manchester by the Sea, there constantly exists an innate danger that the acclaim the film has received will set me up to be disappointed. Thankfully, Lonergan’s masterpiece exceeded every expectation that I had. Despite the incredibly depressing and melancholic tone that is expertly interwoven through the narrative, there is an underlying element of warmth and beauty. The performances alone truly convey the raw emotion of the outstanding screenplay, with Affleck assuredly deserving the Oscar in my opinion. He perfectly captures the realistic sense of grief that plagues his character, whom which we initially feel a sense of dislike towards, yet through the brilliant use of flashbacks that are incorporated into the narrative, we understand why Lee detests life so much.
Moreover, the supporting cast are incredible, with Lucas Hedges giving a standout performance as Patrick, crafting a performance that is not melancholic, yet unequivocally believable. It is the developing relationship between Patrick and Lee that we engage with the characters, blending both sympathy and empathy towards the two. Michelle Williams is stunningly compelling as Randi, as even though she is absent for a vast majority of the film, her presence is still felt, taking a huge toll on Lee, to which we discover in a heart-breaking sequence in the middle of film, that may be the most powerful scene in a film I have experienced in a long time.
The use of flashbacks within a film is common practice, yet in the case of Manchester by the Sea, they are implemented in such a way that wonderfully expand the characters, educating us about their complex past. There’s no stylistic transitions from the present to the past, yet simplicity is best in this case. The overall atmosphere of the film is a tangibly captured quaint environment, one that is heavily juxtaposed with the traumatic events that have occurred for our characters. Manchester by the Sea as a location is just as complex a character as our protagonists, a huge achievement by Lonergan. The soundtrack is hauntingly calming, and the cinematography is gorgeous.
This is a pretty short review, yet that is due to the fact that there really isn’t that much else to say. Manchester by the Sea is a monumental achievement in storytelling, performance and filmmaking in general. With captivating performances, an engaging narrative and purely gripping emotion, this Is a film that I would highly recommend. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s one that I feel should be watched.
I give Manchester by the Sea 9.5 out of 10