There’s still a few to catch up on from last Oscar season (I’m still waiting for Moonlight feverishly), but with the home release of “Manchester by the Sea” I can at least scratch this one off of the list. And was this incredibly real and harsh story worth the long wait?
The story follows the life and events of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), whose father dies in hospital before Lee gets the chance to say goodbye. Lee being someone who is clearly hurting from previous events in his life, lives a meagre life in Quincy, but now his father’s Will says he must look after his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) until he turns 18. This new struggle to retain his old life from the h=changes and the remnants of the past that they bring up, push Lee to his breaking points.
If you are in for a nice movie for a Sunday afternoon, this is probably the worst one you could pick up. Almost like throwing on “Schindlers List” on a date night. But if you are here to see some real emotional struggles and an excellently sculpted film, just have the tissues at the ready.
The opening act where things are being assembled and we get a look at who the characters are, also illustrates the everyday events in the world in such a… morbidly depressing way. Horrible tenants who treat Lee like garbage, and incredibly awkward conversations going on right around him, the movie sticks you in places that you are very uncomfortable to reside in, but it forces you to stay there. Have you ever unintentionally eavesdropped on a conversation that was extremely personal? So much of this film is constructed on that, right down to the camera positioning to have the audience really feel it. And yet you must listen in since you want to hear where this story goes. It is a brilliant way to capture your attention, but one that will have you always shifting uncomfortably in your seat.
The progression from there is primarily on Lee, and how his previous doings in life have got him to the point where he is at now – his relationship with the likes of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), and with his father. But mostly with a particular accident that changed everything for him for the worse. And it isn’t the usual good guy turns bad either, things are a lot more complex and intricate, honestly, they’re more accurate to how people are in real life. No one’s without flaws and not everyone can deal with grief without coming out the other side somewhat hurt or broken.
And I think that is what the movie is trying to do here. It is showing people that desperately want to overcome their issues and problems, but can’t. They’re still human, and so everything that has happened effects them ether for the worse or for the better, but with this case, it focusing on the negatives mostly. It is a process that is difficult to sit through without getting emotionally invested. Lee may at times be a pretty horribly person who makes some fucking terrible choices, but most people go through that, and feel awful about it afterwards.
The cast in here is pretty brilliant, Casey Affleck (and I won’t be considering any of the post-movie stuff), is easily the best performance in what is already a solid turnout. There’s a hundred-thousand way of showing a character’s hurt, and he manages to portray quite a lot of them. But most impressive is that it doesn’t feel like some overly-emotional soap drama, or a romantic drama of someone being “fixed”. It feels genuine, the people in here have sadness and hurt that is like an ever-changing storm, not just a preset of reactions.
I could go on, but it would be a real shame to spoil any of the specifics since their reveal plays a major role in how you will respond to the film overall. I will also say however, that the cinematography is beautifully developed and thought out. The location has a wealth of character and they utilise all of it to glorious effect, but in a very melancholy manner at the same time. The town by the sea is rarely somewhere shown as happy or beautiful. And yet you will still admire it, if that makes sense.
“Manchester by the Sea” is a tough old cookie to sit through, I felt emotionally exhausted by the time the credits began to roll. But it is an enthralling example of how to capture a movie, set the characters, and have them absolutely capture perfectly the emotions and sentiments that need to be carried across. There’s a significant amount of weight to the script, but they carried it well. I can’t say for certain if it is something would like to sit through again, but that doesn’t for a second take away anything from what it achieves.
Thanks for reading!