In a weekend packed with films, Saturday evening saw me at the European premiere of Terence Lonergan’s new film Manchester By The Sea and it certainly proved to be a powerful example of film-making.
Both written and directed by Lonergan, it’s the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a janitor who lives a solitary life in Boston, only to be pulled back to his former home of Manchester when his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away. Although suffering from a known condition and given a limited life expectancy, Joe’s death shakes Lee and through a series of flashbacks we see how close the two brothers were.
Joe’s death also brings an even larger adjustment for Lee, in the form of his 16 year old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). With his mother out of the picture, Lee is his only family and the film’s highlight is the relationship we see develop between these two men, as they each cope with their losses in their own way.
Lee’s return to Manchester also requires him to face his past and it’s only as the story moves forward that we begin to understand the underlying reasons behind his closed-off, almost emotionless at times, personality. It is here where the true brilliance of Affleck’s performance becomes so apparent. His portrayal of a man trying (and perhaps failing) to deal with so much pain, loss, grief and guilt is a revelation and it’s a performance that stays with you. He beautifully captures all of these emotions, while all the time keeping them tightly reined in, resulting in Lee always be somewhat apart from everyone around him. You understand what he’s thinking, even when he’s still and on the surface, calm. Through the glimpses into his previous life, we see when his world was simpler, as a husband to Randi (Michelle Williams) and a father and this makes the film all the more heartbreaking.
Affleck has been a great actor for many years, but with such a stunning performance, Manchester By The Sea marks a turning point in his career that I sincerely hope earns him the recognition he deserves.
Williams may have a smaller role than I expected, but she gives a very believable, delicate and moving performance of a woman whose life took an unexpected turn, which has left her irreparably broken. However, the other performance of note is that of Lucas Hedges as Patrick. The film marks his biggest role to date and it’s a performance which I’m sure is only the beginning of a successful career.
It is a film that is quite slow in pace and its subjects of grief and loss could have resulted in a rather difficult story to sit through. However, although I do think it is perhaps a little too long, what surprised me about Lonergan’s script is how witty it is in places and this is emphasised by Hedges’ performance and his rapport with his uncle. Patrick is dealing with the loss of his father in his own way, which includes his continued efforts to sleep with one of his two girlfriends, even going as far as to ask his uncle to keep her mother occupied! Indeed Affleck and Hedges have a genuinely lovely relationship in this film and even when I felt it was a little too slow in places, the strength of their scenes maintained my interest and emotional investment in the lives of the characters.
It is also wonderfully shot by Lonergan (who even has a brief cameo in the film) and the setting adds to the general mood. You can see how this fishing community would be both a beautiful, but perhaps also lonely place to be.
Overall, I enjoyed this film and am pleased I went to see something I may not have picked out at my local multiplex. It won’t appeal to everyone and I can see how, for some, it may be just too slow a story. However, I found it to be a delicately crafted exploration of human emotion and how we each cope (or try to cope) when we have to face heartbreaking moments and that moving on is harder for some of us than others. This isn’t an easy, light film by any means, but I would still urge anyone with an appreciation for quality storytelling and tremendous acting to go and see it.
Manchester By The Sea opens in the UK on 13th January 2017 (in the USA it’s 18th November 2016). Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gsVoD0pTge0