Kenneth Lonergan, writer of Anaylze This and Gangs of New York, direct his third feature film with Manchester by the Sea, and boy what a truly special film it is.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor for a number of apartment blocks working the same routine everyday, clearing blockages, fitting lights, and maintaining everything he can. One day he receives a call informing him his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is in hospital. By the time Lee gets back to his hometown his brother has passed away, and Lee asks to be the one to inform Patrick, Joe’s sixteen year old son and his nephew, of what happened. Though only planning to stay a week to finalise Joe’s affairs, Lee discovers that in his will Joe entrusted the guardianship of Patrick to him. The revelation catches Lee off guard, forcing him to make a decision as whether to return to his solitary life, or raise his nephew in the town he wishes to forget.
After a year of having our senses battered by more cinematic extinction level events, galactic wars, and superhero feuds than I can ever remember, there is nothing more satisfying that coming across a film passionately driven by story, and the complexity of human emotion. With on point direction intricately woven together with breathtaking performances, Manchester by the Sea is quite simply an exquisite piece of film.
There are so many pivotal elements to the Manchester by the Sea that elevate it above the usual low key drama. The obvious ones are direction, and the performances of the cast gravitating around a sublime central performance from Casey Affleck as the quiet withdrawn Lee. The support from Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife Randi is just as profound, and Lucas Hedges in the role of his nephew Patrick demonstrates a bundle of potential for the future. The casts contribution to the film is flawless and they really hit home the themes of love, loss, family, and the past. That being said, what helps the cast shine is Lonergan completely avoids sensationalising the drama through grounded characters, a simple score, and patient story telling. It doesn’t feel manufactured, it feels pure.
However what also stands out are the little things. Throughout the feature both major and minor characters are subtly making mistakes, and the little flaws of day to day life are visible without significant focus. Individually they are insignificant moments that would otherwise appear out of place, but together they cover a wider theme of imperfection in us. Sometimes these instances are awkward, like when a couple of paramedics struggle to push a gurney into an ambulance during a very sombre moment. Then sometimes they lighten the moment, such as when nurses misplace Joe’s final belongings just as Lee is signing for them. But either way it’s life, and Kenneth Lonergan captures these imperfections perfectly.
In case you hadn’t guessed, Manchester by the Sea is a tremendous piece of film making, and the type of exquisite work you rarely get to see. A triumph in the study of change in soul and emotion of those difficult times, and a sure fire candidate for awards season.