Manchester by the Sea is a well-made film filled with touching, human performances - but I really struggled to get swept up in the story.
Kenneth Lonergan serves as both writer and director on Manchester by the Sea; he spins a poignant film about grief, loss and guilt that is filled with a surprising amount of complexity and depth.
The film concerns itself with Lee (Casey Affleck), a surly loner who works as a janitor in Boston. When his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly passes away, Lee travels to the chilly fishing village of Manchester by the Sea to care for Joe's only son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). With Patrick's mum not on the scene and no other relatives of note available to take up the charge, Lee learns that he is now Patrick's legal guardian - but skeletons in Lee's closet add more than just a shred of doubt in his mind.
Lonergan's film has been met with almost universal acclaim, and with good reason. There is a lot to love in Manchester by the Sea, from the watertight screenplay that dishes out lashings of deep themes to the achingly beautiful direction and cinematography. Lonergan's lingering camerawork really captures the morbid beauty of the icy New England setting, often to such a degree that you can feel the piercing icy winds permeating out of the screen.
The dialogue in particular can be commended; it sounds like how people talk in real life, with all the nuance and errors of actual speech. Lesley Barber's soundtrack is also a standout, filled with soaring choruses, angelic vocals and gentle piano.
The film also boasts a wealth of wonderful performances; Lucas Hedges is great as Patrick as he spouts surly quip and surly quip at his reluctant guardian. Kyle Chandler and Matthew Broderick also serve up the goods in their supporting roles.
Michelle Williams plays a woman from Lee's past; how she factors in to the narrative is best kept a secret, but her role is a lot smaller than I was expecting.
I can't quite put my finger on it, but I simply wasn't as enamored by this film as I was hoping. Maybe it was the length or the meandering middle act, but somewhere along the line I found myself starting to drift in and out of the story. Maybe it's because Lonergan places a lot of focus on banal character moments (like pouring cereal or getting dropped off at band practice) that really don't serve a great deal of use in the overall story; he also doesn't flesh out a lot of Affleck and Williams' backstory, leaving a lot of their history open to interpretation.
I also didn't feel like Affleck gave a performance worth writing home about; his character is just so gosh darn sulky and unlikeable for the entire film, it's hard to root for the guy. Granted he went through some terrible stuff; doesn't mean it's easy to sit through over two hours of Sad Affleck 2.0 shoveling snow, fixing leaky pipes and arguing with his nephew.
The Verdict: 7/10
Manchester by the Sea has a lot going for it, I just wasn't as bowled over as most. Lonergan's direction and screenplay are impeccable and filled with raw, relatable human emotion. My main issue with the film is its length and Affleck's sulky and self-destructive character.
Manchester by the Sea is in cinemas across Australia now