As a real sucker for any movie set in and around Boston, I was immediately hooked by Manchester by the Sea. The story of Lee Chandler, played by a fantastic Casey Affleck, is set in a small Massachusetts town, as Lee comes home following the death of brother, Joe, and has to navigate new responsibility with his nephew Patrick, while struggling with the pain he left behind when he moved away.
Right from the outset, Lee is shown as a broken and complicated character, something Affleck portrays to a chilling degree, there is a montage of sorts at the beginning that fills the audience in on exactly the type of person Lee is. Where the movie really shines with the character though, is through flashbacks, which are shown throughout the film, to help fill in Lee’s backstory. To go into really any detail about how Lee comes to be where he is at the start, and throughout the present day scenes, would do a disservice to the story, as each flashback is paired with modern day scenes to fill in gaps as they need to be revealed. The way each piece of who Lee is, both then and now, is shown to the audience, is what gives this film the emotional weight, that is central to its own success. There are many scenes throughout the film were Affleck masterfully displays the heartache, pain, and overall broken nature of Lee, and the film is better for it. His performance is one that is sure to be talked about this award season, and it is absolutely justified. He plays two characters as it were, the one in the past, and the one in the future, and the dichotomy between the two make the story come full circle. This is one of those performances that makes a movie standout, as the wrong casting choice could have doomed the story from the start, luckily that does not happen here.
The main supporting character is Lucas Hedges, who plays Patrick, and hs performance captures exactly how you would expect a 16 year old to act if he were to lose his father, with a mix of emotion, and a normal teenager attitude. Patrick has his own struggles, which are only worsened because his Uncle is very distant, at a time where he needs stability the most. The filmmakers gave Patrick the right mix of teenage angst, which is great, because too much would have ruined the flow whenever he was onscreen, and too much emotion the other direction would have made the character a foil for Lee, as oppose to a strong character on its own. The relationship between Lee and Patrick is phenomenal, the way they talk to each other has the right blend of authority figure, and child, as well as fun uncle and nephew, which is the type of relationship they show in the flashbacks. Some of the elements in Patrick’s life do not quite work within the story, as there are too many moments that are meant to show what a regular kid Patrick is, but event those do not take away too much from the overall narrative.
The rest of the supporting cast is also strong, Kyle Chandler plays Joe in the flashbacks, and gives a small sense of the character, and why everybody in this small town, as well Lee and Patrick, are so saddened by his passing. The other townspeople really help drive home what a good person Joe was, which makes things that much harder for Patrick and Lee to deal with, as it is a constant reminder of what was lost.
There a smaller performances as well, as both Patrick and Lee have to face women from their past, Patrick’s mother, played by Gretchen Mol, and Lee’s ex wife, played by Michelle Williams. Neither actress is in the film too much, but each one causes a lot of emotional pain for the two main characters, so it was smart to include them, though the Michelle Williams role could have been expanded. There is a scene in particular between Williams and Affleck, that stands out, and really showcases both Williams’ and Affleck’s performances.
Overall there is nothing really bad to say about this film, while there are moments towards the end of the movie that don’t quite add up, it doesn’t take away from the journey the film takes. The film also does seem a little long, though there isn’t much that could be cut that would take away dramatically from the story. In fact there are moments in that film, including flashbacks that could have been fleshed out more. It is a credit to all involved that the final product works as well as it does, as it is entirely possible that the emotional impact of this film would have been lessened, or felt cheesy if not handled properly. This is mostly a credit to writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, as the script is wonderful, and each characters dialogue builds on the story, and characters throughout. In the end Manchester by the Sea is a beautiful film, one that packs several emotional punches, that clearly caused some teary eyes, and sniffles in the theater. This film deserves to be seen, and has earned the admiration it is sure to receive.