If you looked at Kenneth Lonergan’s latest directorial effort Manchester by the Sea on paper, you would think you have totally seen this film before. Boston janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) leads a quiet life by himself despite the occasional unprovoked bar brawl after one too many. He lacks zero social skills and is barely hanging on to his crummy job. Then one day his life is turned upside down when his older brother Joe passes away and leaves him as guardian to his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee struggles with the responsibility of being in charge of his teenage nephew while battling his own demons.
This may seem like a played out scenario, but Manchester by the Sea is another animal completely with its story telling. This New England family drama about people dealing with death in their own ways is powerful, because it feels so real. Movies love to paint everyday life as a Norman Rockwell painting with a nice bow on top where everything works out at the end. Unfortunately, we all know life leaves scars both emotionally and physically. Manchester by the Sea focuses in on the faults that make us human and that’s what makes the film such a gripping and relatable experience. This movie will drain you emotionally and break your heart as the drama unfolds.
All this emotionally charged turmoil is driven by Casey Affleck who does incredible work in this film. At first Lee seems like your typical Black Sheep of the family, but there’s so much more to this broken soul than we can imagine. Manchester by the Sea is not only a dramatic piece, but a mystery as well. Through flashbacks we get to see Lee’s life leading up to his brother’s death, which takes the film to unexpected places that allows Affleck to shine in a role like we have never seen before. Your view of Lee will change so much over the course Manchester by the Sea and Affleck is there giving an amazing performance as an individual looking for some kind of light at the end of the tunnel that he may not find.
Besides Casey Affleck’s poignant performance as the man at the center of all the crisis, Michelle Williams is phenomenal in a minimal role as Randi. Without spoiling too much, the actress plays a person with a connection to Lee that explains much of his actions and demeanor towards the people who try to get close to him. Williams may not have a lot of screen time, but she makes the most of it with a few major pivotal moments in Manchester by the Sea that will have you fighting back the tears. The chemistry between Affleck and Williams is raw, heartbreaking and most of all real.
Manchester by the Sea is a slow burn character study that manages to tell two compelling stories about one regular working class guy and the drama that surrounds him. Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck have tremendous chemistry together as the nephew and uncle who are trying to understand each other through this rough time in their lives. Manchester by the Sea is not happy and pretty, but that’s life sometimes. Somethings are broken and can never be put back together properly. Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and director Kenneth Lonergan will surely garner Oscar attention for delivering a stirring drama that will have you judging, pitying and becoming emotionally invested as to what happens to the Chandler family in Manchester by the Sea.
Overall, I give Manchester by the Sea 3.5 out of 4 stars.
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