Wait, this isn’t about the city in England? In Quincy, Massachusetts lives Lee Russell (Casey Affleck). He works as a janitor, bringing little attention to himself. Once a fairly friendly and upbeat individual, Lee has become extremely reserved, as a result of a tragedy that has shaken him to his core.
Said tragedy was so affecting that he had to move out of Manchester by the Sea just to distance himself from the situation. However, he’s forced to come back because his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), passes away suddenly. This leaves Joe’s son (and Lee’s obvious nephew), Patrick (Lucas Hedges) without a guardian. Unbeknownst to Lee until he picks up the will left behind, he finds that he’s been entrusted to take care of Patrick. As reluctant to the idea as he is, this may just be the best thing that could happen to him.
Manchester by the Sea, for yours truly, was a tough movie to get a feel for going off of its trailer. Two stories? One story? Bit of a comedy? Coming of age? Well, it is a tad bit of all of that to varying degrees. But those degrees add up rather nicely. By the end of it all, Manchester by the Sea is a rewarding viewing experience.
Director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret) essentially tells a tale of the five stages of grief in denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Like the Kübler-Ross model, not all five stages are explicitly shown, or chronological, or necessarily experienced, but many are present at least in one way, shape, or implicit form. For a while in the beginning, Manchester by the Sea does feel a little tonally off, one minute both light and then the next seemingly heavy.
But the blend does get stronger as its runtime, though a little lengthy at 2:17, goes on. Lonergan incorporates flashbacks to give much of the film its emotional gravitas. By its midpoint, context is given as to why Lee Russell is as he is, and the flashbacks here rarely break up the flow of the present. It’s a better usage for drawing emotion, than say, starting the feature with why Lee is so distant which may have come off as forced. The moments that stand out the most in Manchester by the Sea may be those in which nothing is heard, aside from a musical piece composed by Lesley Barber or a licensed piece of music. For as good as the dialogue is, a picture—or in this case, a frame—is worth a thousands words.
Manchester by the Sea is buoyed by two supporting performances in Michelle Williams (hardly present but makes her presence felt when present), and Lucas Hedges, much more than teen angst. His chemistry with Casey Affleck is warm and compelling, and not all gloom. Some of the best parts of the film are ones that inject a small bit of humor along with seriousness, and these scenes in the 2nd half simply make the movie feel real.
But make no mistake, Manchester by the Sea is anchored by a career-best Casey Affleck. Watching Affleck early on is somewhat underwhelming…until I realized that I was looking for this “in-your-face” performance from him instead of just watching it. He plays broken and defeated so well, and it makes the small victories he eventually gains all the more rewarding as a viewer. His eventual acceptance in regards to his past and what his future should include punctuates a strong ending written by Lonergan. The ending works great because it isn’t overly sappy, nor completely downtrodden. There are things that can’t be undone, and we all live with regrets, but these regrets shouldn’t always weigh us down.
In the sea of pure major awards contenders, Manchester by the Sea makes itself noticeable as one of the better ones. Anchors aweigh.
Photo credits go to Imdb.com, usatoday.com, and hollywoodreporter.com.
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Can’t wait to see this tomorrow!
Can’t wait to read your thoughts! I think you may like even more than me.
Yeah it was an incredible movie. At first I was left a bit underwhelmed by the way it wraps up, but this is one of those that just grows on me slowly after. I couldn’t believe how good Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams were. Hell, everyone involved was great.
This movie sounds very promising.
It is. Most impressed with Casey Affleck.
He’s currently getting a lot of awards buzz.
Nice review, Jackson. I like Casey three times more than his big brother. I’ve heard good reviews about this film. I hope to get a chance to see it!
Cindy, you’re gonna love this one then.
Lots of buzz out there for this one. Need to see it before it leaves the local cineplex.
It’s rightfully a player in the awards circuit. I don’t think it should be at the forefront yet, but a definite contender.
Oh boy, was left an emotional wreck after this film. The cast are superb, not least of which Affleck in a career-best turn. Great write-up my friend.
Thank you, my friend. This is a movie that grows on one. Don’t think it’s my favorite of the year but it’s up there.
Great review, thanks. I was more ambivalent about this film. Sure the acting by Affleck is award-worthy and the filming is superb. But the ‘fight your inner demons’ is cliched and his redemption through family re-connection was a predictable narrative arc from the reading of the will onwards. The flashbacking was frenetic and the finale trite. Other than that, it was fine.
I do think it started a little slow, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the movie until a third of the way through. But, I found the flashbacks well-executed (not flawlessly, however, took a little time to get a feel for them).
The acting raises the production in my opinion.
You are right about the pacing and the flashbacks were a mild distraction. Overall I must ask the legitimate cinematic question ‘why was this movie made’ and ‘what is its message’, and thats where I get stuck.
I was very disappointed with how it ended.
Thanks for the comment. I actually found it beautiful how it ended. To me, it felt true to real life. Nothing can ever be undone, but we can move on from it and rebuild. That’s how I saw it at least.
I just thought it was a second chance for him and agreed with his nephew when he said it doesn’t matter where he lived. I felt badly that no one wanted the nephew.