Winner - Best Actor (Casey Affleck)

Winner - Best Original Screenplay

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS / AMAZON STUDIOS (2017)

 

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

 

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

Kenneth Lonergan delivers a powerful piece of work with Manchester by the Sea, a movie which by all accounts shouldn’t succeed – a 2 hour plus movie of emotional anguish and a narrative that conceals itself subtly – but succeed it does, and in a hell of a way.

 

Casey Affleck gives the performance of a lifetime as a seemingly lost man, disillusioned with everyone and anything, a man drifting through life on the back of an untold event (which eventually is revealed). Every scene seethes with a hidden vitriol, and the focus Affleck puts into his character is extraordinary.

After the death of his brother Joe (Chandler), Lee Chandler (Affleck) is shocked to learn that he has been assigned as the guardian of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Hedges). Lee grudgingly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea, the fishing village that was once his old stomping ground. Whilst there, he is forced to deal with a devastating past, his estranged ex-wife, Randi (Williams) and a town that now looks upon him differently.

 

It’s hard to convey a real sense of isolation, of withdrawing from society, without either looking a bit glum, staring or being OTT with emotions, yet Affleck manages to find the way to do it. Possibly because he’s putting part of his actual self into the role, but he has managed to tap into something secreted away and deliver a devastatingly real performance. Having scenes throughout of mundanity – the snow shovelling, the silent car trips, the handyman jobs – gave a glimpse into how Lee lives his life, and work brilliantly with the overall performance.

 

Michelle Williams, similarly, is incredible within her role as Afflecks’ estranged divorced wife – though her screentime is minimal, she is powerful in each scene including an explosive final confrontation, seething with emotions that have been bubbling throughout the movie. Lucas Hedges deserves special praise for his role as Patrick, a role that required controlled grief from a young man and a grief that fizzed away beneath the surface brilliantly.

 

The traditional story tropes are thrown out here for a more hard-hitting, realistic story. There’s not much fun to be found here, but should there be? The movie delivers based on the fact that there is no magic solution, that life hurts and can be a bastard and why should it be sugar coated. Thankfully, as mentioned, the performances were stellar enough to pull this off. The subdued cinematography pairs perfectly with the story, and the small fishing village becomes a character within itself. The direction by Lonergan almost feels personal, like you’re candidly watching intimate moments of a man struggling with himself in private and question whether you should be watching. The flashback scenes flecked throughout lift the air of gloom, showing happier times and softer locations (and more vibrancy)

 

Never once does the movie force emotion on you or goes overboard in its misery (if you will), it’s a masterfully restrained work of art that centres on real life – and how real life works. The music is really where Lonergan speaks up, with classical music (usually just too loud) taking place of any dialogue in scenes, and providing a near-haunting soundtrack against the chilly proceedings on screen.

 

Manchester by the Sea is a different beast compared to releases from a similar time - it is a thoughtful, powerful, haunting story with no real narrative closure, yet the movie makes sense because of it. The raw emotion that ekes out of every scene is all that is required, and along with stunning acting and outstanding writing, creates a monumentally good movie that eschews the normal proceedings of modern movie storytelling – and thank God it does.

January 26th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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