Manchester by the Sea (2016)
On a fishing boat, uncle Lee (Casey Affleck) is teaching his nephew, Patrick (Ben O’Brien) about fishing with a rod and reel, while Patrick’s dad, Joe (Kyle Chandler) is at the wheel. They are having fun as Lee is telling tall tales about fishing while Patrick does not believe a word that Lee, and his dad are telling him. One thing is for sure; the three are having a great time out on the water.
We cut to ten years in the future, and the fun-loving uncle is gone; he now is a quiet and sullen man working as a janitor/handyman in a Boston apartment complex. Lee has a reputation for being an unfriendly guy. We see this as he goes from apartment to apartment fixing big and small problems, the tenants treating him as if he doesn’t exist unless he isn’t giving them the answers they want. Has a run-in with a troublesome tenant who wants her plumbing problem fixed now, while Lee gives her two choices, both of which she doesn’t like. She reports Lee to his supervisor, who warns Lee that he must improve his attitude, Lee’s response is if he does his job, he doesn’t have to be nice.
Lee goes to a bar after work and proceeds to get drunk. After fending off the passes of a young woman, he gets into a fight with a couple of men who he thinks are staring at him too much. Lee stumbles back to his tiny one-room apartment and crashes on the bed. It’s evident that this is a pattern that he repeats on most nights.
The next day, as he is shoveling snow off the sidewalks, he gets a call that his older brother Joe has had a heart attack and is in serious condition. Lee gets in his truck and rushes to Manchester by the Sea where his brother is. He searches the hospital and encounters a family friend and a nurse that knows him, finding out that his brother has just died. He discovers that his nephew is a hockey practice and heads there to tell his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) the hardest news he will ever deliver, that he is now an orphan.
Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan brings us a tale of heartbreak, grief and the attempt to heal wounds from the past. It’s an achingly beautiful film that follows Lee and Patrick as they try to deal with all the big and small stuff that has to be handled after a death in the family. Lee is in no shape to handle a teenager, and his first priority is to figure out what to do with Patrick. Lonergan exploits the underlining tension between Lee and Patrick, as both know this is their biggest obstacle. Patrick’s fear of abandonment, and Lee’s fear of having an instant family are always there in their interactions as if both know just one incident could tilt the uneasy peace the two have with each other. As the story moves along, Lonergan uses flashbacks to let us understand why Lee is so broken and why Patrick feels abandoned by his parents. The film slowly peels back the layers in a way that makes the film feel full and multi-layered.
The heart of this film are the performances by this exceptional cast. Kyle Chandler is perfect as the big brother who everyone likes. He easily projects that good-guy vibe that makes you instantly admire him. Michelle Williams, playing Lee’s ex-wife, is fantastic in her role. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes, but her powerful scene near the end of the film with Affleck is one of the best performances I have ever seen. And give credit to Affleck in that scene, as he lets Williams share the screen in a situation that he could have easily dominated. I loved the chemistry between Lucas Hedges and Affleck. They play so well-off each other, making their every scene together a joy to watch.
Make no mistake; this is Affleck’s film, and he is brilliant in the role. Full of pain and guilt, his performance is a wonder to watch. It’s a complex performance worthy of what should be an Academy Award nomination. Affleck doesn’t have a lot of lines in the film, as Lee isn’t one for small talk and can be quite a brooder, but Affleck makes that work to his advantage. There is a magical scene in the film that shows Affleck’s talent to the fullest. Hedges character freaks out due to all the changes in his life and has a bit of a breakdown in his room. Lee comes into his room and tells Patrick that he will just sit there with him until he calms down. With only a slight movement of his body language, Affleck lets his character comfort his nephew without touching him. It’s a moving and touching scene made better by not what is said, but what is not said in that scene.
Manchester by the Sea is a film that perfectly explores the sense of loss when a death occurs, but it even better explores the human reaction to bad things when they happen to good people. Why did it happen and will the people left behind forgive themselves for surviving is what this film answers. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again