Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams
Review Written By: Movie Parliament Prime Minister, Michael Dalton
Based on that premise, you may think you have some idea as to where this film is going to go. Man finds redemption in family after being given an unexpected responsibility. However, Manchester by the Sea confounds your expectations not through any dramatic plot-twists, or even by straying too far from that formula, but instead through its sheer realism. This is a film that doesn’t do what you’d expect precisely because it follows what would actually happen. The result may underwhelm audiences accustomed to more mainstream satisfaction, however this is a silently powerful film, with an emotional realism that will linger long in the memory.
It is not difficult to see why Casey Affleck is the frontrunner to win the Best Actor Oscar. The film rests entirely on his performance. In many ways, the film IS his performance. There are only a handful of scenes he isn’t in and so much of the film’s emotional resonance is dependent on what he does, or doesn’t, convey. The film doesn’t give him any of the grandstanding scenes that are usually associated with Oscar victory. This is a performance typified by its silences rather than its shouts. It is a physical performance but one marked by physical restraint. It is a performance of such emotional impact, because it is of a character trying so desperately to stop his emotions from coming to the surface.
Meanwhile, Lucas Hedges is thoroughly believable in his role as Lee’s nephew turned adopted son. Watching him and Casey Affleck build a relationship together is a complicated joy to behold. There is an animosity yet tenderness between the two that makes for compelling viewing. Extended movements of this film consist of the two of them talking in a car and yet it is more gripping and satisfying than most other dramas. Furthermore, Kyle Chandler’s brief appearance in the film, through flashback as Lee’s brother, takes everything up a notch, as his presence always does.
However, perhaps the most affecting supporting performance in the film comes from Michelle Williams. Playing Lee’s ex-wife, mostly seen in flashback but also in one pivotal scene in the present day, Michelle Williams manages to convey a huge emotional journey in very limited screen time. The scene that her and Affleck share together which is on most of the posters isn’t quite as long as you'd expect, but is one of heartbreaking intensity.
Films such as this can sometimes seem visually unspectacular, or more a testament to their performances and screenplay than their director. Previously a playwright, the film’s writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has garnered much praise for the film’s dialogue. However, Lonergan’s directorial achievement must also be recognized. These things are never as simple as just pointing the camera at good actors and letting them get on with it. Furthermore, the film’s flashbacks are expertly placed and the chilly cinematography sets as much of the tone as Affleck’s performance.
The sequence where we find out the truth behind Lee’s past whilst he is told of his new responsibility is a bravura piece of filmmaking. As the past is juxtaposed with the present, we are truly haunted by the pain that has now come to the surface and are shown all of it in truly cinematic fashion, with little to no dialogue. It is so horrifying because it feels so real. Indeed, the biggest piece of praise you can give the film as a whole is that not one moment seems false. You don’t for a second note an artificiality in the production or performances.
Manchester by the Sea is in one sense an inescapably tragic film. Sometimes there are scars that won’t heal. People are hurt forever and nothing can change that. The fact that the film takes this on and yet leaves you feeling slightly uplifted by its final scene, speaks to the film’s emotional complexity and how it captures the muddiness of real-life. There is a deep, searing sadness underlining this film and a pervasive sense of tragedy. However, amongst that are some incredibly heartwarming and natural laughs, with one scene in particular being funnier than most comedy films I saw last year. What may seem like a contradiction is entirely consistent, as this film truly does feel like a slice of life that has been delicately placed on the big screen.
Movie Parliament Rating: MAJORITY GOVERNMENT
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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