After the sudden death of his older brother, Lee, played by Casey Affleck, is made legal guardian of his son Patrick. He then returns to his hometown and is forced to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community he was born and raised in.
Kenneth Lonergan is such an extraordinary and talented writer; his beautifully, and richly, textured drama draws upon the timeless themes of recovery, redemption, and the persistence of guilt in such a way that feels fresh. The emotion is never overbearing for the sake of being overbearing, rather it feels all too real, which is a credit to the writing as much as it is to the fantastic performances.
and the Oscar for Best Actor goes to…
This is the ‘Casey Affleck show’ from beginning to end; you can just give him the ‘Best Actor’ Oscar right now and save everyone a whole lot of trouble. He radiates this aura of subtle magnetism so brilliantly and effortlessly; there’s not a single emotion on the spectrum that goes unexploited.
As much as the film is about Lee and his internal journey from tragedy to something a lot more hopeful, it’s also about his nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, who has a very bright future, and his personal struggle to cope with his father’s death. Despite having a small yet significant part in the film, Michelle Williams’ performance is a treasure to behold. There’s one scene, in particular, where she got everyone in attendance wishing they brought a tissue.
Unlike many big-budget studio movies, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is not afraid to make the audience work and test the viewer’s patience with its constant, and unannounced, cutting between past and present, as well as its unwavering unravelling of character background and motivation. In fact, one of its best aspects is the lack of close-ups. Almost everything is filmed from afar, which reflects Lee’s emotional distancing. And it’s not until later where you finally find out why this guy has detached himself from the rest of the world. Then, from that point on, you’re in his head; you watch the film unfold from a point-of-view almost entirely foreign to how you viewed it at first.
Regardless of the second half’s slackening pace and film’s familiar DNA, this is without a doubt the most personal and heart wrenching film of 2016 thus far. Maybe even the best.