Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams & Lucas Hedges
Synopsis: A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
Rating: 15 Duration: 131 minutes Release date: 15 May (UK)

Grief, as anyone who has ever cared for and lost someone will know, is a truly awful thing. In many ways it is taboo. It is not talked about enough and those who suffer from it run the risk of never getting through it. Films, like life, have failed to highlight the issue and really bring home how devastating it can be. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea is a brave film full of grief and one cannot fail to be moved by the events portrayed here.

Lee Chandler (Affleck) is a handyman living a solitary life in a small town in Massachusetts. His existence is a simple, quiet one full of grief for an as yet unexplained event. Then, suddenly he gets a phone call informing him his brother Joe (Chandler) has had a cardiac arrest. Arriving at the hospital Lee learns that his brother has passed away in the time it took him to get to there. Wanting to be the first to tell Patrick (Hedges) about his father’s death, Lee takes responsibility for the teenager. Lee later receives news that he is to become Patrick’s legal guardian and must make the decision whether to return to his idle existence or face the demons that beset him in his home town.

Few films are as gripping as Manchester by the Sea. Dealing with grief and loss is never easy and that being the focal point of your film makes this a tough watch. Manchester by the Sea is as beautiful as it is difficult and director Kenneth Lonergan never sugar coats the impact heartache can have on anyone, nor does he turn it into melodrama. The result is a complicated, heart-wrenching look at life and how those who are left behind when someone dies cope from day-to-day.

Much has been made about Casey Afflecks performance here and watching the film away from all the award season hype, it is arguably his finest role yet. Affleck perfectly encapsulates the agony we all go through at various times in our lives. His portrayal is quiet and, at times, borders on minimal. Like any actor finding his best form, Affleck says more with his face than he does with his words. The pain is clear to see, with his eyes telling so many stories. It is quite possible to watch this film multiple times and pick out something different in his expressions on each viewing.

While the film belongs to Affleck, it would be nothing without the support of Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges who play his estranged wife and nephew respectively. Williams’ chemistry with Affleck is palpable. The pair create the real feeling of being together, there is love as well as tension, they care for each other as much as they want to kill each other. Rarely are scenes felt so heavily and when the two come together it feels so raw and sincere that you are brought right into it, almost forgetting you are watching a film. Hedges’ teenager provides a performance mature beyond his years and imbues Affleck’s Uncle with a sense of being, while the two of them are forced to grow up in entirely different ways.

Kenneth Lonergan, on his third feature film, is capable of crafting wonderful stories with minimum ingredients. His story is simple and keeps the amount of things that happens small, while allowing characters to affect what happens next. Stripping things down and permitting the film and its characters to breathe is what allows the film to work as well as it does.

While Manchester by the Sea is no easy watch, it is utterly compelling. It brings you in and allows you into these characters lives and urges you to feel what they feel and making it all feel so natural. This is superior film making and utterly compelling acting in what will surely be regarded as one of the best films of the year.

Special features:

  • Director’s commentary
  • Deleted scenes
  • Emotional Lives featurette

Film: 4/5
Extras: 3/5

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