Manchester By The Sea

Aida Vucic | 23/01/2017

Whilst the premise of the film lends itself to a more sombre tone; dry humour and a stellar performance from the lead actor, Casey Afflleck, places Manchester by the Sea in Oscar contention. Kenneth Lonergan, former playwright and director, successfully takes the audience through the emotional journey of both loss and guilt, delivering a story which is heart wrenching as well as enriching.

Set in Boston, Affleck plays Lee Chandler; a janitor who attends to the demand of the residence, which he appears to struggle to display any emotion towards. He’s clearly a man that’s damned himself to solitary confinement, but is drawn out of his own misery by the death of his older brother. He returns to the quaint seaside town of Manchester to attend to the obligatory funeral arrangements, whereupon he’s informed that he is the custodian of his 16-year-old smart ass nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). It’s their relationship that provides the comedic relief to what would otherwise be an intense film.

 

From the onset, Lee’s affection towards Patrick is obvious; however, the interaction between the two following Joe’s death is awkward as Lee struggles to navigate the parenting role. Instead he takes on the role of a chauffeur, driving Patrick around to his band practice, hockey practice or to either of his two girlfriend’s houses. The reason for Lee’s reluctance to take on the role as custodian is initially unclear but flashbacks of his past reveal details of his former life with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and their three young children. It’s the revelation of these horrors that create sympathy for Lee’s plight and the grim reality that suffering is never-ending.

 

Lonergan pairs the story with scenic shots of an often lifeless ocean and desolate town as well as a score that is largely classical with intermittent jukebox rock, which expresses emotions the characters seem incapable to express themselves. The cinematography is enlightening, with colour used to great effect to show how events can change the perception of an objects. Scenes on the ocean with Joe and Lee are bathed in light and color, whereas the same scene is grey and desolate as Lee mulls over it following his brothers’ death.

Whilst the story itself is poignant, it is Affleck’s performance which elevates Manchester by the Sea. From the simple hand gestures used to describe the plumbing works, the stance when confronted with his brother’s dead body, or the perfect delivery of anguish and guilt that reside within him during his confrontation with William’s character, Affleck sheds his often mumbling persona to give us a stoic, silent, wrenching performance. His Lee is strong and silent, but simultaneously expressive and relatable. Affleck is utterly understated. Perhaps no other actor could have made the film so believable, or so stunningly affecting.

Conclusion

A wonderfully crafted story, beautifully raw in its depiction of loss and further enhanced by Casey Affleck’s best performance to date.  A must-see, and undoubtedly a strong contender for more than one Oscar.