Manchester by the Sea is a bleakly brilliant film, far more original and affecting than either the trailer or a synopsis can convey. The plot is fairly conventional fodder: Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is tasked with caring for his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after the boy’s father dies. Lee is not really cut out for the job, and their relationship is fraught with problems, which they have to work to overcome. So far, so ordinary. But there is a rare honesty in the telling of this tale that renders it both raw and authentic, making it one of the most compelling films I have ever seen.
Casey Affleck is extraordinary. He’s closed, inarticulate and conflicted, a reserved, introverted man who’s called upon to fulfil a role he simply can’t take on. There is real pain in his performance, despite its understatement. The gradual revelation of his past trauma is beautifully handled by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, whose script is clearly a gift for the actors in this film.
Michelle Williams, as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, is as exemplary as you’d expect; she only appears in a handful of scenes, but her final conversation with Lee is utterly heartbreaking, without ever straying into sentimentality or sensationalism. And Lucas Hedges, as Patrick, acquits himself well too, absolutely convincing as the grief-stricken, selfish, but ultimately decent teen.
The setting plays a huge part in this movie: the wintry colours of Manchester reflecting the apparent coolness of its residents. The eventual thaw is slow and slight. The cinematography is beautiful, capturing those cold blues and greys with icy precision.
We loved Manchester by the Sea. Do try to catch it; it’d be a real shame to miss this one.