To be honest, both Manchester by the Sea and its writer/director Kenneth Lonergan were completely out of my radar before the film got nominated for 6 Oscars. I missed the opportunity to watch it when it came out in the UK, so I had to wait until now for it to come in local cinemas. having seen it has a score of 96 in Metacritic, I decided not to read any reviews or watch any trailers and just experience it by myself. Maybe that’s the right word, ‘experience’, as it is very hard to just watch it without letting it move you.
Lee Chandler has a very simple life as a janitor, but his brother’s death suddenly changes that fact, as his testament specifies it must be Lee who will take care of his 16-year-old son. Difficulties to deal with changes and demon’s from Lee’s past will create a situation unlike any of the characters have ever lived in this incredibly written drama. Lonergan is best known for his work at screenwriting, but this time, he shines unlike any other time, especially due to the magnificent, delicate way of revealing the protagonist’s motives. Every line feels natural, they all perfectly reflect how protagonists Lee and his nephew Patrick feel. Some actions and conversations are repeated several times throughout the movie, but they have a different feel to them every single time, as the change in the characters’ mood is conveyed in a minimalist but very effective way.
It is a quite unusual script too, as it carefully plays with ordinary situations and turn them into dramatic moments using just the right words, without losing the realistic approach. It is truly amazing to see how characters cope with death, since they all have their own methods to try to get over it, from a quite uncomfortable sense of humour to hiding all emotions hoping they will disappear by themselves eventually. The relationships among characters are beautifully crafted too, and watching them evolve is an absolute joy. In fact, the most beautiful, heart-wrenching moments are those in which they open for a tiny bit and let each other know how their pasts haunt them. When that happens, the most ordinary actions have a meaning so deep and touching, they feel out of the ordinary. To put it simply, Lonergan tells a wonderful story wonderfully.
Career-defining. That’s the best definition for Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by Sea. His work is marvellous, definitely worthy of the Oscar he is nominated to. His portrayal of Lee is deep, packed with subtleties and extremely difficult not to be captivated by, his serious face-expressions always hide a detail or two for the audience to see how shattered he really feels. Sadfleck just got a whole new meaning. Lucas Hedges also gives an excellent performance as Lee’s teenager nephew, striking the right notes when portraying a young man trying on to hold to the little he has left after his father’s death. His character focuses on those things, from hockey games to the rehearsals with his band, but Hedges clearly shows how that’s nothing but a facade brilliantly. Michelle Williams, who is quite absent during the runtime, has a spectacular scene with Affleck during the final act.
Stunning cinematography work makes Manchester (not the British, but the one in the United States) look flawless. The way camera work shifts during the film is very interesting too, with lots of steady, tripod shots and many handheld takes that provide a nice contrast and unpredictability to the scenes. The soundtrack is even more remarkable, with lots of piano pieces with a nice flow to them, and some unusual chorale songs that sound excellent. As you may probably guess, it’s not the kind of soundtrack to listen to all the time due to its sad nature, but at the right times, there is nothing like it.
Just to nitpick a little bit, I did find the film, with a runtime of two hours and seventeen minutes, slightly too long. This will mean that those viewers not feeling the movie as its director intended may find it quite boring or too mundane, especially as the ending (which is quite unconventional when taking into account Hollywood standards) approaches.
Lonergan, I won’t deny it, you were out of my radar. But hell, I promise you won’t be again. Manchester by the Sea is an amazingly crafted picture with perfect performances and a great script. It deserves all the praise it is getting, without a doubt. Moving, devastating, fun and beautiful all at once, this is a pretty rare gem of a movie. Without a doubt the most emotional picture of 2016, this one should not be missed. Because there are some feelings too strong to hide, and some deaths that never die. 9/10