Manchester by the Sea

Written and directed by noted playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea is a truly exceptional film about the powerful emotion of grief and is anchored by perhaps the best performance of the year from Casey Affleck. In a career-defining role perfectly suited for him, Affleck plays the somber character Lee Chandler who is stuck in a dead-end job as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts without much hope for the future. His lonely life dramatically changes with the death of his brother Joe, portrayed by Kyle Chandler, who worked as a fisherman in their hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. Without any remaining immediate family in the area able to help, Joe’s teenage son Patrick is placed under the guardianship of Lee. Extremely hesitant throughout much of the movie to take over the parenting responsibilities, Lee is forced to return to the quaint sleepy fishing town of Manchester-by-the-Sea where he must face his tragic past. The director artfully paints the difficulties Affleck’s character experienced by seamlessly blending flashbacks with current events that bring back mostly bad memories. We are introduced to his ex-wife, played by the brilliant Michelle Williams, who is equally grief-stricken after their shared unimaginable family tragedy several years prior. Lee’s nephew Patrick, portrayed by the young Lucas Hedges, is a fully human character epitomizing the effects of grief. He rarely shows emotions typical of most teenagers and becomes much more rebellious after his father’s death. Patrick occasionally breaks down emotionally and his already weary uncle must somehow overcome his own heartbreak to support Patrick at such a time of crisis. The movie effectively underscores the characters’ emotional turmoil by setting the story in an economically depressed town during the unbearably cold winter. Although it is a charmingly beautiful New England on the North Shore, Manchester-by-the-Sea has a layer of despair emphasized by the harsh and dreary winter. Overall, I found the film to be a towering cinematic achievement evoking the raw emotions associated with being human and made powerful by the mesmerizing Casey Affleck who unquestionably deserves to win the Oscar for best actor.

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