Manchester By The Sea from writer and director Kenneth Lonergan follows Lee (Casey Affleck) who has to come back to his old home in Manchester-by-the-Sea after his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies. He has to care for Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and face his ex wife (Michelle Williams), as he comes back into a community he left after some past events, which I won’t spoil now.
It’s a simple story, but a really touching a human one. Almost all of us can relate to the tragedy of losing someone, so we know what it’s like to be in Lee’s shoes. When you add the extra pressure of having to take care of his nephew, and deal with his former family life then you can imagine the kind of emotional toll that would take on someone. There is a certain degree to which this is a film about coming to terms with the past, but that realistic edge to Manchester By The Sea means that this is something that ultimately proves to be too big a challenge. It’s a brilliant well written screenplay, by Kenneth Lonergan, who is better know for his writing than directing and really exhibits his talent here.
When you consider that Lonergan hasn’t directed many feature films before then you’ll be taken aback by the incredible job that he’s done. The way he reveals key scenes in Joe, Lee, and Patrick’s history to us is masterfully done, at the perfect moments to give real emotional impact to them. He also uses the simple and beautiful score to really underline the emotional high points of the film. The scene where Lee learns he has been named as Patrick’s legal guardian is so masterfully constructed and emotionally charged, really showing why Lonergan deserves huge acclaim for what he’s achieved.
Lonergan’s job on directing is made a bit easier by some incredible performances. Michelle Williams, despite not appearing in a huge amount of the film is fantastic, and Lucas Hedges delivers what is sure to be a breakthrough performance. But Casey Affleck’s performance in the central role is incredible. As it stands I haven’t seen a performance this year that comes close to Affleck here. It’s not a huge flashy performance with everything on the surface; instead it’s a far subtler one, which in two or three key scenes allows everything to come out. It reminds me of Brie Larson in Room last year, and I think like Larson, there isn’t going to be too many who could challenge him for best actor this year.
Manchester By The Sea is a beautiful and heartbreaking masterpiece. When it does finally get released I would urge everyone to go and see it. It’s one of the best written, directed, and acted films of the year, and deserves every accolade coming to it.