“Manchester By The Sea” Is A Heartbreaking Piece Of Art

By Scott Kurland

Film: Manchester By The Sea
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, and Matthew Broderick
Rated R
Director: Kenneth Lonergan

It’s strange to think that its the weird things we remember that make us who we.  I remember “You Can Count On Me” (written and directed  by Kenneth Lonergan), was the film that made me search for other good independent films. I discovered this film the way I discovered most good cinema at that age, watching Roger Ebert. I loved the way Ebert talked about the writing of the film and Lonergan’s unique voice, so much so in fact that I made my dad drive to Kendall Square to see it . From then on, I continued to seek out films such as “You Can Count On Me.” This week’s film is Lonergan’s third film “Manchester By The Sea.” Let’s find out how good it is shall we?

“Manchester By The Sea” is the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a building super in Quincy MA who receives news that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died. Lee must return to his hometown of “Manchester By The Sea” to take care of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). When Lee discovers he must permanently stay in town to be Patrick’s guardian, he finds himself facing the demons he ran away from years ago. The longer Lee stays in town, the more he begins to remember. Can Lee forget his past so he can be a better guardian to  Patrick ? Or will Lee’s failed marriage be a constant reminder that “Manchester By The Sea” isn’t the perfect seaside town he thought it was?

This is truly one of the best film I have ever seen, and that’s because it’s a slow burn. Lonergan takes his time to write and execute the story. He develops Lee as one of the most complicated and tortured characters to ever grace the screen. What I have always loved about Lonergan’s writing is how realistic it is. These characters have real conversations about life, sex, death and pain. Yet, it’s the way Lonergan’s characters convey it and the details that are added that make it a truly fantastic script. A character could appear to be fine in one scene, but seeing an image or grabbing food could set them off in another. Independent film-making is all about the minor details that make up the big picture. Lonergan’s direction is just as on point as his writing because his collaboration with editor Jennifer Lame leads to not only great storytelling, but also but incredible editing. They tell their story between flashbacks and present day beautifully. Usually I hate constant shifts in time narratives, but this was incredibly well done.

I have always thought that Casey Affleck was the better actor of the Affleck brothers. Ben is the writer and director, but Casey has the acting chops. Affleck’s performance is a master class in acting, and the most difficult performance I’ve seen all year. Affleck has to play two different versions of the same person. First, there is present-day lee, who is filled with anger and pain that he’s been suppressing for almost a decade and then there's past-Lee, who was happy-go-lucky and a bit of a drunk. As of right now, Affleck is the clear contender for the "Best Actor" Oscar. His only competition, should he be nominated, is going to be Denzel Washington for “Fences.". With that said, I feel the same way about Affleck’s performance as I did with Brie Larson from her Oscar winning performance in last year’s “Room." For me, Affleck gives the greatest performance of 2016 and quite possibly the last ten years.

I loved everything about “Manchester By The Sea,” from the performances of Affleck, Michelle Williams, and young Lucas Hedges. However, what made me love this movie as much as I did was the fact that it gave me one of the most gut wrenching twists I’ve ever experienced. I won’t spoil it because everyone should see this film, but I will say it blindsides you, sweeps you off your feet, and pins you to the ground. “Manchester By The Sea” is one of the best films of the year, and the lasting impression it will have on movie goers will last a lifetime. From it’s beautiful cinematography to its looming classical score, this film succeeds in every sense of the word.  I still think you need to prepare yourself before you see it. This is a character study about human nature and how people treat each other. Some people care for others, some push others away, and the rest deal with their pain and try to live their lives the best they can. Kenneth Lonergan is one of the best filmmakers working today. Sadly it takes him almost a decade to make each of his films, and “Manchester By The Sea” will have to hold me over for a while. See this movie, because it’s a film begging to be seen.

scott kurlandComment