Manchester By The Sea, 2016
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Lee Chandler is a janitor. He's quiet, prone to surliness and alone. But one day he gets a phone call and finds out his brother has died of a heart attack. Living an hour and a half away, he drives to Manchester, Massachusetts to where his brother and his brother's 16 year old son lived. Manchester, the city he grew up in and lived in for a part of his life before leaving. In the wake of grief, he finds himself newly made guardian over his 16 year old nephew, Patrick. But Manchester brings back old griefs, old heartaches and ghosts from his past.
Casey Affleck has been among my favourite actors for a while now. His work in The Assassination of Jesse James and Ain't Them Body Saints was stunning and it's been frustrating that he hasn't had a lot of good work since Jesse James. However, finally he landed the role of Lee Chandler. And now he's tipped (for now) to win an Oscar for the role.
Manchester By The Sea is not a showy film. It's a film about small moments and subtleties. It's a film I know I'll be thinking about for several days, still processing and digesting everything about it. It's a simple story, and one that's been told often. I can name several films about anti-social/awkward people who find their sister/friend/brother dead and now have to be guardian of a child and it helps them grow as a person. I can even think of a Katherine Heigel movie with that plot. But Manchester By The Sea wasn't like that. I mean, the story itself isn't breaking any new ground here, but the execution was flawless.
To be honest, it took me a while into the movie to see what the big deal was. For about the first 45 minutes or so I was kind of whatever on the movie. But finally, when we hit the scene that explains why everyone is talking about Lee Chandler, saying "THE Lee Chandler?", my heart broke and I was stunned. I won't spoil it, but from that point on, the film had me. This is a heart-wrenching film, but it never tries to make you sob in your seat in the theatre. It's simply a film that addresses loss and grief, and how we all deal with it (or don't). It's simple, but it's a film you'll be thinking about for days to come.
Casey Affleck here is spot-on for this role. However, this is not a showy role. There's not really any big juicy Oscar-clip moments. It's a subtle performance, but extremely nuanced. Casey is oozing with this sadness and desperation of Lee. He could not have given a better performance here. And then we also have Michelle Williams. It's a very small role for her, but she really packs the emotional punches here. Her scenes are much more juicy and emotional. I won't say much about Michelle's character, but she really punches you in the gut. And we also have newcomer Lucas Hedges (he was in Moonrise Kingdom! More people should talk about this). Lucas Hedges plays Patrick, Lee's nephew. He gives a great performance here and really nails how teenagers often deal/don't deal with grief and loss. They are lost, but don't know what to do. And Lucas was able to nail that.
Overall, this isn't a film I can see winning Best Picture, even though it is definitely one of the best films of the year. But this is a film filled with fantastic and must-see performances. Casey Affleck delivers a career-defining role here and it's not to be missed.