“Manchester by the Sea” is an exercise in raw, understated filmmaking to the highest degree. It is a film so powerful, so earnest, so fully realized that just about every frame of it aches with the pain and suffering beholden to its characters. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan deserves ample credit for crafting a story, place, and tone this emotionally ripe devoid of cliché or embellishment. What you see is what you get and what you get is the year’s most devastatingly real and honest film, a film about loss and despair and hope through the eyes of two characters desperately clinging to the few things in life yet to be torn away.
The character of Lee Chandler is so tragically encapsulated by Casey Affleck from the first moment we lay eyes on him; his anguish over the past ever apparent even before we learn of it. How he conveys Lee’s pain through the most subtle of glances or stammers is a remarkable thing to behold, and it’s an overall performance worthy of every ounce of the praise it’s already received. Lucas Hedges is terrific as well as the arrogant, emotionally distant son of Lee’s deceased brother, Patrick. Like Lee, we’re taught over the course of the film’s two-plus hour runtime just how certain heartbreak has contributed to forming the flawed, damaged person he is in present day. The two characters’ reliance on each other to overcome their shared brokenness is the story of the film, and it’s the hope that they’ll eventually arrive to such a place together that crystallizes its lasting impression.
Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, and Gretchen Mol also deliver tender, heartbreaking performances that again harken back to the foundation of our two leads’ vast turmoil, but also stand up exceedingly well on their own. Such is the nature of the world Lonergan has brought to life in which every inch of every corner pre-exists fresh with its own history and point-of-view. “Manchester by the Sea” is the caliber of film we rarely get to experience in that few directors and leading actors possess the ability to convey such intimate emotion in as surprising and naturalistic a manner. It’s a film I expect to stay with me far beyond the slow crawl of its end-credits; it packs that powerful a punch.
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, and Gretchen Mol
Runtime: 137 minutes