Manchester by the Sea

A deeply personal story of loss and scars that don’t fade


How do you continue living when there is nothing left to live for?  How do you move on when the defining moment in your life is an inconceivable tragedy?  Is there a way to still live a productive life?  And would you even care to?  Manchester by the Sea asks these tough questions and doesn’t give filmgoers easy answers; because nothing about these questions are straightforward, and nothing about the answers are simple.

The latest from writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (writer of Gangs of New York), Manchester by the Sea is thought-provoking and heart-breaking; without ever descending into the melodramatic.  Filmed on location in the handsome town it takes its title from, the story is set in the small New England fishing hamlet in the dead of winter.  Employing flashbacks to introduce how the past still affects the present; Manchester by the Sea is a tough watch in the way life can be tough to live.

The lead role of Lee Chandler was originally cast as Matt Damon, and as good as Mr. Damon is, it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to embody the despondency, the anguish, the simmering rage better than star Casey Affleck.  Without spoiling too much, Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler works a menial labor job, and is lonely by choice.  He has to return to his hometown when he is thrust into a role of guardian to his orphaned nephew; and subsequently forced to face his darkest moments he has sought to repress.  He hasn’t sought out this responsibility, and it is a burden to the isolation he has chosen for himself.

Working opposite Casey Affleck is Lucas Hedges, as Lee Chandler’s nephew Patrick; dealing with all the usual troubles of teenage life amplified by the loss of a parent and the uncertainty of his future.  Rejecting his own grief as best he can, Patrick forces a dose of optimism into Lee’s life.  Maybe his future isn’t written yet; but Patrick doesn’t get to hit pause.  He still has band practice, he still is juggling multiple girlfriends, he still needs to live his life. Hedges keenly shows the seesawing emotions a teen faced with his circumstances would oscillate between.

Rounding out the cast is Michelle Williams in the pivotal role of Randi, a woman who shares Lee Chandler’s tragic past.  As much as Lee has avoided it, his reunion with Randi is inescapable.  They have forged ahead from their mutual struggle in different ways; and while time cannot heal all, both Randi and Lee must find closure.


Scores:

  • Acting: 10/10 – A defining performance for Casey Affleck
  • Directing: 9/10 – Lonergan knows what he wants to say, and how to do so
  • Screenwriting: 10/10 – A refined, powerful story of loss

Overall:

9/10, In Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan has crafted a deeply personal and profoundly emotional story without ever veering into sentimentality.  Casey Affleck embodies his role absolutely; boiling over with the raw emotions he struggles to suppress.

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