Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges
Run Time: 137 mins
If you’re closely watching the upcoming Awards season, it is very hard to not notice ‘Manchester By The Sea’, the new film by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan which stars Casey Affleck who is hotly tipped to win an Oscar for his performance and has Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges in supporting roles. It follows the narrative of Affleck’s character, Lee Chandler who loses his brother, Joe to a heart attack and when he travels to the titular location to arrange his affairs is shocked to learn that Joe has named him guardian of his teenage son, Patrick. Lonergan is no stranger to this genre and previously directed the very well-recieved ‘Margaret’ in 2011 and ‘You Can Count On Me’ in 2000. ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is distributed by Amazon Studios and although I applaud the fact that those working in the film industry get a lot more creative freedom this way or through Netflix, I have very mixed feelings over this form of cinema distribution and a lot of films that are released hardly ever see the light of day in a cinema. Now as this film is geared up for Awards season, it is only logical to give this film a wide-release but I’m sure if this film hadn’t have been so well-received by both critics and audiences, audiences would find it hard to access this film. For me, this is not the direction that cinema should be heading in and I was ready to really nitpick this film to prove a point before seeing it.
‘Manchester By The Sea’ is a heartfelt, expertly crafted film that features a career-defining performance by Casey Affleck and it takes its time in really developing its characters and allowing its audience to emotionally connect with them. The rest of the cast are also very strong and the narrative really goes to town with these characters who all go through their own equally debilitating experiences. That said, the film does have some flaws in its tone which is a little unbalanced at times and a couple of baffling musical choices also awkwardly impact the film.
The performances in ‘Manchester By The Sea’ are what the film will most likely be remembered for and Casey Affleck is simply brilliant as Lee who is solemn, well-meaning and a little sarcastic and as the film takes its time in trickling his backstory to the audience, he is an easy character to empathise with. I’ve always been a big advocate of Casey Affleck and he has put in some impressive performances over the years and it’s a shame that he isn’t as well regarded as his brother, Ben Affleck as Casey Affleck by far picks the more interesting projects to work on. I would be surprised if he didn’t take the win for Best Actor this year at the upcoming Academy Awards. The rest of the cast are also very strong and Lucas Hedges in particular manages to make a memorable impression as Patrick and this should hopefully lead onto a lot more work for him. Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler both manage to pull their weight and both have some standout moments in some key sequences.
The narrative that Lonergan puts these characters for is endlessly depressing and there are times where you think there isn’t a lot of hope for these characters futures. It’s a very raw and real representation of death and the film manages to tackle the themes of adolescence and even questions one’s morals at times. It’s a superb screenplay that Lonergan has written and one that I hope is acknowledged as it is equally haunting and emotive but also quite humorous in parts. If anything, I would have wanted to have spent more time with these characters as I really started to care and empathise with them and the film already has a fair 137 minute run time.
The score by Lesley Barber works perfectly at times and really compliments the film but at other times detracts from the experience with some baffling choices that don’t really synchronise well with the events being portrayed on-screen. However when Barber gets it right, the score is very fitting. The cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes manages to encapsulate the rawness of the situation and really gives the audience an impression as to what it’s like to live in this location but I did find some shots a little heavy-handed in its lighting.
Overall, ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is a rewarding and expertly-crafted film in its character development and narrative and I was completely won over the performances. This film is undoubtedly going to make a lot of noise at the upcoming Academy Awards and with good reason too as it deserves the attention it is getting. It’s just a shame that Amazon and Netflix don’t normally choose to exhibit their films widely and I probably would never have got a chance to watch this film if it hadn’t have received a wide release due to the awards buzz. It’s a model that needs to be rethought and reevaluated and if anything, if they can make a mark on the film industry it might teach the oligopoly of film studios to give their filmmakers more creative freedom and allow them to make the film they desire rather than the one that will appeal to the most audiences or make the most revenue at the box office. ‘Manchester By The Sea’ is a very carefully crafted piece of work and is a great film to kick-start the year off.