Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Age Rating: 15/R
Running Time: 137 Minutes
From the moment Studio Canal released the trailer for this film back in November 2016, it has screamed “Oscar contender”. This is not down to any incredible cinematography, extremely sensitive plot lines or a masterclass in directing, but simply down to some good old-fashioned A-class acting. It is safe to say that after seeing Manchester By The Sea that is still exactly how I feel; somebody give Mr Affleck an Oscar but don’t necessarily give the film one.
One thing’s for sure, this title shouldn’t be ruled out of the running for the best original screenplay. Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, this film tells the story of a short-tempered, no-nonsense loner, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) who is called back to his hometown, Manchester (in America just so you’re aware), following the death of his brother. With an alcoholic sister-in-law out of the picture, Lee is named as the guardian of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), who has made a life for himself in Manchester, where Lee has been running away from a tragic past for several years.
The story is strong, gritty and terrifyingly realistic, but my first criticism of it would have to be that it feels dragged out in areas and parts of the story seem to be thrown into the mix to make this into an unnecessary +2 hour feature-length film, such as the inclusion of Patrick meeting his mother which doesn’t really add anything to the film at all, except confirm that she is an alcoholic. In my opinion there isn’t enough focus on Lee’s tragic story, but instead, the pleasant and rarely tricky relationship he has with his 16 year-old nephew who never really challenges him at any point.
Possibly my least favourite part of this film is the score which understandably was not a nominee at this year’s Golden Globes. It was very invasive and over-powering, and brought back similar feelings of when I watched The Lobster at 2015’s BFI Festival. For such an emotional and upsetting story, a more sensitive score could have gone a lot further than the harsh and aggressive tone this one takes.
What does stand out to me from this motion picture however, is the actors’ performances from supporting cast to lead roles; from Patrick’s extremely irritating girlfriend (I’ll let you decide which one) to Lee’s ex-wife Randi, played by Michelle Williams (Shutter Island, My Week With Marilyn) who is brilliant once again but in all honesty under-used yet over-promoted in trailers/posters for the film.
We see a stellar debut from Lucas Hedges as 16 year-old Patrick who masks his feelings of loss and grief with capitalising on the perks of only having your uncle looking out for you. His performance in this is witty yet emotional. Just when you wonder how this teenager isn’t struggling with the death of his father, one of the simplest things sets him off and your introduced to the heartbroken Patrick who isn’t as strong as he tries to make out. This is a very believable portrayal of a teenage boy in this particular situation, and one which is sure to see him rise to stardom this year.
Above all, seeing this film will make you understand all of the hype around Casey Affleck this year, why he has already won a Golden Globe for his acting display here and why he is likely to be an Oscar winner at the back end of February. He completely steals the show throughout and I feel like the film is almost built around his performance, because without it we wouldn’t necessarily even have a film in contention for Oscars to begin with. Even though your heart constantly goes out to Affleck’s character, Lee, as he battles with his loss and his ghosts in his hometown, somehow he manages to pick you up with some straight-faced sarcastic wit, and give this picture the sporadic moments of comedy it desperately needs.
Overall, Manchester By The Sea is definitely an Oscars contender that needs to be seen. It is not one you’ll necessarily watch more than once, but there are many previous Oscar winners that have fallen into that category before, and this ones needs to be cherished for its masterclass in minimalist acting from Casey Affleck. It is an emotional tale which is not over-complicated in the slightest, and really draws attention to the importance of forgiveness. In my opinion, it just seems to miss something; maybe I’m over-analysing it, maybe people around me have talked the film up too much and as a result I’m expecting a lot more, or maybe I haven’t grasped the full depth of this film, but this is for you to decide when you see it.
Recommendation: Catch it before the 89th Academy Awards at the end of February!