Manchester by the Sea – Film Review

This film is brilliant.  I could end it there and be completely satisfied with myself, because rarely does a film come across and do all the talking itself.  This film does exactly that, though I came away from it with one image in my mind.  And that, strangely, is Casey Affleck’s attire in the film.  His character Lee Chandler wears some of the coolest things I have seen on screen.  It’s completely superficial but his look in film really made me adore his character, proving that every little bit of a film is important.  I mean there is so much more to the film but I wanted to mention that quickly because it really has stuck in my brain.  And I want to also say that this is not just an Oscar-like production, it is far more entertaining than that.

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The premise for this film is simple and can be really numbed down to tragedy, loss and hope. Lee is disenfranchised from the world and a past life, until his brother dies and he is forced to return home to take care of his nephew.  From this the content of the film may seem obvious, though I feel like the plot unwinds into a far larger story.  What is interesting about the film is that it can be played as character study of Lee.  A man so isolated and broken, giving up completely on life, going day by day feeling nothing.  Yet the film involves so much more than that as it goes on.  It’s less about him and more about the person before, it’s about his relationship with his nephew Patrick, who is wonderfully played by Lucas Hedges in his first major role.  Than it becomes about Patrick, about his self-centred teenage life, and how similar he is to his uncle.  There is a web of characters who revolve around Lee that the film reflects on, though the location comes into play as a vital part of the film as well.

It’s beautifully shot around Manchester and the gorgeous wide shots give each frame life, as the setting becomes more important.  Lee is placed in this world that he once knew, and there is a great deal of nostalgia that comes with that.  The films colours are endlessly nice to look at, with deep browns and blues on sparse landscapes.  I could have watched Lee struggle to live in this place all day and director Kenneth Lonergan does well to keep the film open.  By this I’m trying to say that the film doesn’t bog down on the heartbreak or the characters and allows the film to be about a place as well as the people in it.  Time after time there is these foreboding shots of the town, and the water surrounding it, that really had me fixated on the scenery.  It is such a carefully made film, and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes does well to add to the drama and performances.

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Of course Affleck is the force of the film, subtly crushing you in every scene and I was desperately empathetic with him as soon as the film began.  He has this brooding rage in him that is present every time he is on screen.  There is a weight to his performance and he was utterly convincing, ultimately making the film as strong as it is.  Those opening moments really are some of the highlights of the film, and Affleck carries it through the rest of the picture.  He’s excellent in the trickier moments where he is alongside Michelle Williams, who plays his ex-wife Randi, and the pair are compelling together as they deal with little dialogue. A lot can be said about a moody Oscar-bait performance, but honestly I was took away by Affleck in this film, as well as the rest of the cast.

I think what I admire most about this film, is how imperfect it is.  There feels like unfinished business in the film and the troubling moments often felt underplayed.  I liked that, and despite some parts in the film where the music felt out of place, I was overall engaged by the film. It’s over 2 hours long, but it flew by and there is never a dull sequence of events.  The entire run-time is full of anguish but I found that it was more a pleasant viewing.  At no point was I depressed or angry, I was relaxed.  The film masterfully puts you into a story that is so human, and so real, rather than attempting to force tears out of you.  It’s full of the awkwardness of life, and when the credits rolled I felt nothing but respect and joy for the film.

 

Side-note:  The second image on this review is probably my favourite part of the entire movie. It is a beautiful moment and such a lovely piece of cinematic creation.

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