Every year dozens of films are released to critical acclaim, with many of them failing to live up to their lofty expectations. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea scored a lot of pre-release buzz and went on to win a slew of awards (including Oscars for Best Original Screenplay for Lonergan and Best Actor and Casey Affleck). Manchester certainly lives up to its reputation, managing to be totally captivating and wonderfully acted. Moonlight and La La Land may have duked it out for Best Picture, but Manchester By The Sea is the real winner on a creative level. It’s not just the best film of the 2016/2017 awards season but also one of the best films of the last few years.
Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a caretaker who must look after his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges) when his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee has to deal with all the complexities that this brings while also attempting to deal with the past which saw him leave the town where he grew up.
Manchester By the Sea is a near flawless piece of filmmaking. Lonergan deals with a lot of heavy issues in his film, but he also manages to pack in quite a bit of humour to balance it out. There’s a realism that runs throughout the film, from the dialogue to the performances which never rings false. Hollywood films might be getting bigger and louder, but it’s such a pleasure to watch something as muted like this.
Casey Affleck delivers what might just be one of the great movie performances of all time. He’s in nearly every scene and he carries the full weight of Lonergan’s film on his shoulders. Affleck delivers each line-reading with precision, but he is also just as affecting when he says nothing. He’s nothing short of brilliant. Young Lucas Hedges is excellent as the teenager trying to hold his life together throughout the upheaval in his life. Michelle Williams also gets to get a powerful last act scene which tilts the film towards its emotional and narrative climax
The plot for Manchester By the Sea may not sound like a great night’s viewing, but Lonergan’s film is an emotionally uplifting experience. The performances are superb and the slow reveal of the storyline is expertly handled. Truly great movies rarely come along, but Manchester By the Sea is without a doubt one of those special cinematic achievements.
Manchester By the Sea comes with some deleted scenes, a documentary and a commentary from Kenneth Lonergan. They all add something a little extra to this outstanding film.