Since the awards’ season is finally in full swing, let’s review one of its frontrunners – Manchester By The Sea!
IMDb summary: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.
Kenneth Lonergan, who I only knew as the screenwriter behind Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, both wrote and directed Manchester By The Sea. I really enjoyed the narrative that he came up with for this film. First of all, I liked the setting choice – the majority of movies (both indie and mainstream ones) that I’ve seen tend to focus on either the huge urban metropolises of the USA or on the stereotypical rural south, so it was refreshing to see an American movie set in just a normal and mundane city of Manchester that wasn’t super big but also was not just a small town in the middle of nowhere.
In addition, I liked the fact that the film’s mundane focus, like the logistics of daily life, were treated with respect and importance because these things are important even if we don’t think about them as such. The big reveal of the past tragedy was unexpected and completely horrifying, but it allowed the film to explore the themes of guilt, of feeling like one should have been punished and of not being able to forget. Speaking about the last theme, I loved that the resolution of the movie was that one does not necessarily have to forget, no big revelations has to come in the end. Sometimes, it is better to just live.
Other few topical points that the movie made were 1. the portrayal of the worker as present in people’s lives without being seen and 2. that the showing of emotions is a positive thing and not a sign of weakness. From this review or the trailers, you might think that this film is really depressing and sad and it is that in part (it is also sometimes uncomfortable and unsettling), however, it also has a few lighter moments that arise from the daily lives of the characters and that give hope to the future and hope is the only thing that makes our lives, as well as these character’s lives, better.
Lonergan’s directing was as great as his writing. I loved the almost documentary-like feeling of the picture and the slow but engaging pace. The steady camera shots brought a classic aspect to the film while the play between the offscreen and onscreen space modernized it. The sea or the ocean wasn’t as big of a character in the movie as I expected it to be, but it was always present in the background and kinda characterized the city without overbearing it. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack by Lesley Barber. The sacral gospel-like numbers and the tunes by a string orchestra really elevated the atmosphere of the picture.
Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours, Gone Baby Gone) played the main character in the film and did a magnificent job. His brilliant performance has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award. He will, most likely, take both the SAG and the Oscar in the Best Lead Actor category. Casey has always tried to stay out of the spotlight but I think that it is gonna be quite hard to do that moving forward. I wonder if he is going to follow in his brother’s Ben’s footsteps and do something really mainstream (although Ben Affleck is probably regretting that he took on the role of Batman as the critics just can’t stop picking on his films both the mainstream and the indie ones).
Speaking more about his performance in Manchester By The Sea – it was truly brilliant. He portrayed the social reservedness/awkwardness and almost the emotionless of the character just perfectly. The past tragedy of the character could also always be felt in the appearance/the behavior of the actor. Affleck also played the character as a realistic drunk and not an over the top one (similarly to Emily Blunt in The Girl on The Train). The overall performance seemed to be of low energy but it was actually very subtly powerful.
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn) starred as the main character’s ex-wife and, even though she only appeared in the handful of scenes, she did a spectacular job. Similarly to Affleck’s, her performance was grounded and silently persuasive. My favorite scene of the film was William’s and Affleck’s characters’ encounter in the street – it wasn’t an easy or a pleasant scene to watch but it just allowed the acting skills of both actors to truly shine and that’s why it was my favorite.
Lucas Hedges, to whom Manchester By The Sea was a breakthrough film, played the teenager nephew of Affleck’s character and was really good too. I liked the fact that his character was written as a realistic teenager that could both be in a band and on a hockey team, both have girlfriend(s) and like Star Trek.
Kyle Chandler and C.J. Wilson also played two small supporting roles and did a great job with their limited screentime.
In short, Manchester By The Sea was a great picture with nice writing and directing. However, the acting was the thing that made it stand out from other films.
Trailer: Manchester By The Sea trailer