Last year, 2016, was actually a great time for thought-provoking cinema. You had a modern musical; a story of a young man's coming-of-age; a scifi tale of alien contact; a tale of revenge, among others; and acclaimed director Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester By The Sea, a tale of redemption/courage/compassion through unbearable tragedy was a perfect reason why. It's a film or experience of a family's journey of hope through pain; community through extreme loss, and connection through personal struggle that everyone can relate to.
Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a Boston janitor, who suddenly becomes the sole guardian of his nephew after the death of his older brother. Because of this, he moves back to his home town of Manchester, where he's forced to confront his past, in a series of flashbacks, the most painful memories, especially those involving his estranged ex-wife and the death of their three children. The more he has to deal with these expected, or unexpected interruptions, while also trying to reconnect with his nephew, the more he comes to back to life.
With this powerful film, Lonergan gets pitch-perfect and fully realized performances from his incredible cast. Affleck, in a brave and subtle portrayal of a man trying to keep his emotions at bay, because he just can't seem to go there, is absolutely amazing. His face communicates everything that the character of Lee is feeling and needs to feel. You are sometimes bewildered of his behavior, and how he doesn't show the emotion that he should show, but you understand why he acts the way he does, and the way he feels. I think it's arguably the best role of his career. The always unstoppable and stunning Michelle Williams brings rawness and ferocity to her performance as Randi, Lee's ex-wife, that generates and bares supreme emotional honesty and heart. A prime example of this is the pivotal moment of confrontation with her and Affleck near the end of the film that exposes sheer nakedness and vunerabliity that is something to remember forever. However, the real star of the film is Lucas Hedges, whose mature and all-too-real performance of Patrick is a revelation. Patrick is a character that radiates true teenage instinct, while trying to bring his uncle back to him and reality to the way is was truly meant to be. There is a scene where Hedges breaks down and has a panic attack, and you realize that Lonergan got the right actor to play that part. There are also superb supporting performances from Kyle Chandler and Gretchen Mol as Lee's older brother and Patrick's former alcoholic mother. They're not in every scene, but when they have their moments, they definitely deliver. When I see these two accomplised actors in movies and TV, I always look forward to what they're going to do.
I can't leave out Lonergan himself as the writer/director. Not only does he bring extreme honesty to his screenplay, but he also has a memorable cameo as a passerby who critizes Affleck that feels real. He is a writer and director that always delivers humanity and intelligence to his films and characters. I've seen his two previous films he wrote and directed: You Can Count On Me, and Margaret, and I have to say that he is a natural talent who succeeds and is more interested in human drama rather than spectacles and special effects. I really look forward to his next film.
The special features include deleted scenes, a terrific featurette: Emotional Lives- Making Manchester By The Sea, and a wonderful feature-length conversation with Lonergan that reveals how the film was brought to life. There are also trailers for La La Land, Southside with You, Patriots Day, Indigination, and Cafe Society.
I just would like to close this review out by saying that it is great to have movies that are more organic and human. They go deeper than explosions, 3D, and huge budgets; they center on people, their struggles with life/love and their journeys to happiness, or something like it. And Manchester By The Sea, a modern masterpiece, does just that and so much more.
Manchester By The Sea is currently available on Digital HD and will arrive on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and On Demand next Tuesday, February 21.