Casey Affleck really knocks this one out of the park.
Manchester By the Sea could be considered a downer of a movie, and, to be fair, there are plenty of parts of this film that are depressing, but when the pieces are all brought together, this is a real somber tale of damaged people and their struggles to survive the pain of their past.
When word reached Boston handyman/janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) had died, Lee headed back to his hometown of Manchester, a town that held devastating memories of loss for him. Discovering that Joe had left Lee as the guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges), his son, Lee does not know what he can do.
As he tries to get by, Lee continues to be haunted by the memories of his past, and the reason why he moved away from Manchester in the first place. He has to see his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), Patrick’s alcoholic mother Elsie (Gretchen Mol) and his brother’s friend and partner George (CJ Wilson).
This story is a real human story. There are none of the manipulative emotional notes like those that are crammed in your face like in Collateral Beauty. The subtlety in this film is perfect and real and hits the audience hard.
Director Kenneth Lonergan is quite the storyteller as Manchester By the Sea spends much of the time using flashbacks to reveal the history of Lee and why he is acting as he is. The tragic circumstances really make you understand why Lee is the unlikable jerk that the film seems to be showing. These flashbacks are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the narrative beautifully, creating a very original feeling story.
Casey Affleck will gain many awards and nominations for his amazingly layered and complex performance in this movie. He could easily have been over the top but his acting choices creates such a rich character that he carries this film. Michelle Williams is also wonderful in a smaller role. Every time Williams is on the screen, you know something powerful is going to happen. And the connection between Lee and Patrick is strong despite actions by both characters that could damage that connection. Lucas Hedges is remarkable here, spending most of his time opposite the stellar Affleck and holding his own.
The dialogue of the film is so true that if you told me that they just filmed real people talking, I would believe it. There are no weak points in the writing of the dialogue or any other aspects of the script.
Manchester By the Sea can be a tough movie to watch because it takes you on such a roller coaster ride of emotions but it also challenges an audience to take that trip naturally, without the manipulations that many tear-jerkers try to use. It is a wonderfully performed film, with realistic dialogue and flawed characters.