UK Release Date: 13th January 2017
Runtime: 137 minutes
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, CJ Wilson
Synopsis: A man rocked by a traumatic event from his past is forced to return to his former hometown when his brother dies of an illness, leaving his teenage son behind.
In an award season dominated by La La Land’s musical bombast and orchestral ode to old Hollywood, and Moonlight’s potentially generation-defining picture about the lives of gay black men in America, it feels odd that something like Manchester by the Sea would emerge as the third horse in a two horse race. While the two Oscars 2017 frontrunners offer showmanship and importance, this new film from Kenneth Lonergan offers a subtle, strictly realistic portrayal of one man’s emotional pain.
Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, is a closed off man working as a janitor in Boston. He has to return to the titular location, his former hometown, following a tragedy in his family. So far, so similar to every indie movie ever produced, but its simple premise shouldn’t overshadow what is a layered look at grief, family and moving on that avoids the usual cliches to focus on an unflinching reality.
If I have a criticism of Manchester by the Sea, it’s that I felt myself wanting more from it. That may have been a result of my own preoccupation with the conventions of its premise, which the movie remains stoically determined not to abide by. You want the emotional showdown. You want the easy character development and you want the gesture at the end that makes everything alright in a shower of warm feeling, but that’s not real life, and what this movie wants to show is real.
The film achieves this with subtle direction and a thoroughly engaging central performance from Affleck, who goes into the Oscars as a slight favourite for the Best Actor award. It’s hard to know whether it’s Affleck doing his best work or the casting director doing their best work in finding a role that suits Affleck so perfectly, but he is incredibly engaging to watch, and given that he is in almost every shot of the movie, that definitely helps.
It would be a strange transition to go from Leonardo DiCaprio’s grimy, all-on-the-table performance last year to Affleck’s more nuanced, shy and delicate portrayal this year, but it might just put the Best Actor Oscar award back into balance. The supporting cast, including Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife, Kyle Chandler as his brother and Lucas Hedges as his nephew, all do good work, but this is Affleck’s show and he carries it with grace and a real emotional punch.
Manchester by the Sea will inevitably be overshadowed by the two more talked about movies in this year’s Oscar race. However, that position likely suits a movie like this, which subtly goes about its business and will creep up on you with its emotional poignancy.
Pop or Poop?
Kenneth Lonergan has created a searing, complex portrayal of grief with Manchester by the Sea, which deserves its position as one of the main contenders being talked about in the awards race. It’s a measured, controlled portrayal of humanity that pivots on a tremendous Casey Affleck performance.
A strong supporting cast and a clever script allows the narrative to unfold in an unconventional and inventive way, ensuring that the relatively simple plot remains thoroughly engaging and emotionally devastating when it needs to be.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.