Despite being hit with multiple lawsuits due to its post-production delays, Kenneth Lonergan’s last film Margaret gained rave reviews and reputable box office takings, as the film explored the emotional turmoil of its young eponymous character. Five years later, he delivers his latest feature, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Manchester by the Sea sees janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) return to his home town of Manchester, Massachusetts, after the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). Designated the legal guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee struggles to deal with his new responsibilities and his past with ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams).
The film chronicles the roots of Lee’s strained relationships with his family and Randi – it is evident that he is emotionally overwhelmed and his reluctance to connect with anyone, including Patrick, shows how much he is scarred by his former life in Manchester. As the story progresses, the growing uncertainty of his future – with or without his nephew – fuels his inability to open up, which is frustrating as it makes Lee somewhat emotionless and empty.
However, the film covers the theme of dealing with death with consideration and sensitivity. There are no huge outbursts of grief or anger; if anything, it sees its characters adopt a more mature approach towards it. Lonergan’s simplistic dialogue is complemented by the film’s timely flashbacks, which gradually fills in the gaps between the closed-off Lee, while Jody Lee Lipes’s cinematography is picturesque yet desolate, beautifully capturing the stillness and loneliness of the town.
Affleck delivers an understated performance, choosing to make his physical actions convey the melee of emotions in Lee’s mind, while Hedges portrays the typical teenager with a maturity regarding his family. Together with Affleck, they are compelling leads who show a mutual understanding and share a relatable chemistry. While underused, Williams is also great to watch, with an emotionally charged scene between her and Affleck being a standout moment.
Manchester by the Sea is a deeply affecting drama with a captivating turn by Casey Affleck.
Manchester by the Sea is out in UK cinemas on 13 January 2017.
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Stars: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Runtime: 135 min