Manchester by the Sea is a film about dealing with grief and wrongdoing in one’s life. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, a 54 year old playwright and theatre director, the film concerns a Boston janitor, named Lee, played by Casey Affleck. Lee is a cynical pessimist who is seemingly haunted and tormented in his life, often clashing rather humorously with the tenants of the properties he maintains. After the death of his brother, Lee has to return home to care for his nephew, for whom he is now the legal guardian. This is difficult for Lee because of the memories that his home town holds, a traumatic story which explains all-consuming grief. Whilst this kind of dramatic material often attracts a heavy handed approach, with characters screaming, shouting, and trying desperately to break our hearts, Lonergan’s film is subtle, nuanced, and honest.
“lonergan’s film is subtle, nuanced, and honest”
Manchester by the Sea is a classic award-season poacher, given a limited release at some film festivals, aiming for critical acclaim, and then extended towards a wider release just before the awards season really kicks off. However, this doesn’t feel like the classic Oscar-chaser, and instead paints a simple and honest portrait of a troubled man and his process of grief. This is the first film I’ve seen by Kenneth Lonergan, and only his third behind the camera, but Manchester by the Sea shows all the markings of a seasoned auteur. For instance, in certain sequences Lonergan opts to isolate the soundtrack, removing dialogue and diegetic noise in favour of capturing a moment and a feeling. Similarly, Casey Affleck’s performance is just as brilliant and nuanced as Lonergan’s direction, creating and carrying the film’s emotional weight. Throughout you expect him to explode, but instead the pain of his character is seen through his delicately balanced performance.
“it’s not often that you come across a film that is so thought-provoking, horrifying, and funny all at the same time”
The grief and horror of the narrative is counterbalanced by some genuinely touching and funny scenes between an uncle and his nephew, with Lucas Hedges giving a brilliant turn as Patrick, the grieving teenager who is also trying to carve his place in the world. It’s not often that you come across a film that is so thought-provoking, horrifying, and funny all at the same time, but Manchester by the Sea is all of these things and more. Afterwards, I overheard a woman saying she hated it as it was ‘too slow’ and ‘too sad’. Slow and sad it may be; this is arguably a masterpiece and more than worth your time.