Every year, movie lovers who’ve waded through disappointments and dreck are paid off for their patience with that one film that embeds itself in their psyche, not to be soon forgotten. Manchester by the Sea is that one film. The quiet, nuanced dramatic film from writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret, You Can Count on Me) is one of the few 2016 theatrical releases that not only lives up to its awards season hype, but does so without a single false moment or misstep.
Casey Affleck’s sure to earn an Oscar nomination and quite likely a win for his heartbreaking portrayal of a man who becomes emotionally disconnected from the world after a devastating event. Affleck is brilliant as Lee, an apartment complex handyman who has shut himself off from his family, his friends, and the world. Following yet another traumatic event, Lee is forced out of his self-imposed solitary life and back out into the harsh world he’s tried unsuccessfully to escape.
Lucas Hedges gives a breakthrough performance as Patrick, a 16-year-old hockey-playing high school kid who must deal with something no teenager should experience. Watching Affleck and Hedges in scenes as a detached uncle dealing with his beloved brother’s son feels like eavesdropping on a close friend’s private home movies. We’re given a glimpse of intensely personal moments between these characters who cease to be fictional and have become family as the result of Lonergan’s script and direction, and the work of an outstanding ensemble of actors completely immersed in these characters.
Michelle Williams plays Lee’s ex-wife and although she has maybe a total of 15 minutes of screen time, the Oscar talk surrounding her performance is completely justified. There’s a short heart-wrenching scene in Manchester by the Sea that’s not only one of Williams’ best, but also the single best scene of any feature film released in 2016.
Lonergan’s script is grounded in reality and the film will resonate with anyone who’s felt lost or emotionally adrift, or anyone who’s had to work their way through the grieving process. Despite the film’s somber tone, there’s a truth and honesty in Lonergan’s surprisingly complex story that will weave its way into your heart. And most importantly, it will do so without any need for manipulation or melodrama. Manchester by the Sea is powerful, moving, and one of the year’s best films.
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Mary Mallen, C. J. Wilson, Gretchen Mol, and Matthew Broderick
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some sexual content
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2016