Hot Take: A film that might exhaust you emotionally. Casey Affleck is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nominee.
There are scenes, even single lines, that stick with you for days after seeing Manchester by the Sea. For example, every time Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams shared the screen together, I felt my heart being ripped out of my chest. It’s a film that requires an emotional connection early on. If you develop it (as it seems most who’ve watched it have), the rest of the film is going to be a bumpy ride.
The film encapsulates loss from so many facets. It paints a picture of unexpected lost. Due to the spoiler free nature of this review, it’ll be tough to dive into that one without giving away some of the key plot points. The film also explores loss that all of the characters have time to be prepared for but still, as often is the case with loss, are not. The main character Lee, played by Affleck, must deal with the loss of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) who dies somewhat unexpectedly. We learn through flashbacks that Joe, while still very young for death to come knocking, had a heart condition that was expected to shorten his life.
In order to deal with Joe’s death, Lee must return to a home he left behind to get Joe’s affairs in order. Upon returning, old demons are revealed as Lee struggles to cope with daily life while trying to figure out how to care for his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and battle through running into ghosts and unresolved issues from his past. For Patrick, despite the loss of his dad, things are pretty good. He’s on the hockey team, he’s in a band and he has two girlfriends. So, when Lee learns his brother Joe left him as Patrick’s legal guardian and discussions of taking Patrick back to Boston with him, tension mounts. It ups the ante as the tension is already at a fever pitch.
What Manchester by the Sea does well is avoid sugar coating anything. The occasional light provided through humor within the painful moments is welcome but it wouldn’t be fair to call it gallows humor. It’s appropriate and the anger, sadness, pain and laughter all feel more real than most movies of 2016. That includes the ones with the “based on a true story” tag than many movies need to give it higher stakes. Something Manchester by the Sea doesn’t need the benefit of as it all feels very real and very painful.
Manchester by the Sea turns out to be one of the saddest films in recent memory. The heft of the sadness is heavy, too. It’s carried mostly by Affleck’s performance which is indeed as brilliant as advertised. As the film peels back the layers of his character you realize how genuine this performance is. While the film falls short in a couple of areas (a heavy handed, distracting score accompanies many scenes in which our writer/director Kenneth Lonergan drops a ton of bricks on us where a single brick might have sufficed), it’s handling of tragedy combined with the message of the importance of family which blurs as the waves of emotional stress crash over the characters is impressive enough to warrant Best Picture talk. It falls just short for my taste but it’s a film that if it doesn’t somehow move you, I’m not really sure you’re human.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- It’s All Academic for Affleck
You can write Casey Affleck’s name in pen for the upcoming Academy Awards nominations. He’s not a guarantee to win but he should easily be the front-runner.
- The Last Scene Featuring Williams & Affleck
The most moving scene of 2016. If this doesn’t rip your heart out, you probably didn’t have one in the first place.
- Loose Ends Don’t Always Have to Be Tied Up
While this might be a bit of a spoiler, don’t expect to reach the conclusion of the film and walk away feeling like everything is resolved. If you’re someone who needs that from a film, don’t even bother setting foot in the theater because you’ll leave unhappy.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Score
The music of Manchester by the Sea might occasionally fit the mood but it’s so loud and overbearing, it ends up distracting from the actual actions on screen. It is of little surprise that among this film’s accolades (which are plentiful), nominations for Best Original Score is not one it is grabbing.