Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Manchester united? Well, that’ll take some time. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), now a handyman in Boston, travels back to his hometown of Manchester when his only brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), passes away. The demons waiting for Lee back home, like the ex-wife (Michelle Williams) he never got proper closure with, will have to be set aside. First, he has to take care of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), who’s unexpectedly been put in his custody.
Casey Affleck has been good before, even as recently as his supporting role in this year’s underperforming “The Finest Hours,” but he’s never carried a movie like he does in “Manchester by the Sea.” He’s looking at an almost-certain Oscar nomination. It’s a Samsonian effort from a man who used to be known only as Ben’s little brother. But these brothers can both take a movie from great to tremendous. In the first starring role of his career, Lucas Hedges provides much of the wit that breaks up this melancholy drama. Kyle Chandler makes a great impression despite his short screen time. If you’ve seen “Bloodline” or “Friday Night Lights,” you know there’s hardly a man more capable of making you forget he’s an actor than Kyle Chandler.
But praising the acting is only scratching the surface. “Manchester by the Sea” is as well-rounded a film as I’ve seen all year. Cinematographer Jody Lee-Lipes frames this moving character study in a way that may earn him Oscar talk (it doesn’t help that he’s filming the beautiful Massachusetts seaside and a half-dozen marvelous acting performances). Composer Lesley Barber captures both the unique setting and a broad range of emotions in her original music. “Manchester by the Sea” wouldn’t have been the gut punch that it was without the aid of her compositions. Director Kenneth Lonergan already has two screenwriting Oscar nominations under his belt, but he might want to prepare for his third (not to mention one for directing). Often a point of discomfort or distraction, Lonergan uses flashbacks so naturally that they never seem out of place or unexpected. The film is as well organized as any I’ve seen. If I had to lodge one complaint, it’s that the second half of the movie didn’t have any noteworthy plot points that jolted us to attention. Once it made its point, “Manchester” sort of coasts. Nothing wrong with that, really, but you might find yourself checking the time somewhere close to the end.
“Manchester by the Sea” is a landmark of a movie, a touchstone in this year of relative cinematic inadequacy. It’s a film about grief, connection, home, and the human condition. It’ll make you feel.