Manchester by the Sea is My Film of the Year

Manchester by the Sea is My Film of the Year

I saw Manchester by the Sea less than 24 hours ago and I’ve been arguing with myself ever since over whether to sit on my review and give it time, or to gather up all the things I have and spill it on the page while it’s still hot in my mind. I chose to spill it all here because it felt fitting. It feels raw and real, just like Manchester by the Sea.

Every so often there comes a film that treads a delicate line between drama and comedy, that finds the exact cushion for its heavy-hitting familial struggles and the compassion and realism we yearn for from our characters. It’s the type of movie that has you leaving the theater in utter disarray, leaving you broken down and out of breath for reasons only you could hold the answers to. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea is one such film.

Everything within the film was delicately balanced and set in place with the precision of a surgeon’s handiwork.

This quietly beautiful film deserves all the praise that it has and will receive, and deserves so much more as well. The beauty of Manchester by the Sea is in the subtlety of its story telling, it’s delivery, it’s acting…everything. The film holds itself together with these pillars, leaving no struggle to carry on. It marches forward into the real world, whether you’re ready to continue with it or not. Lonergan, who not only wrote but directs the film, bleeds his passion onto the screen. The importance of this story is evident in his direction; his use of subtle cinematography and quiet dialogue help narrate the realism of the film. One of the main things I noticed while watching was that there were no “outburst” moments. There were no moments of over-acting or tantrums. Everything within the film was delicately balanced and set in place with the precision of a surgeon’s handiwork.

Casey Affleck’s turn as the understated Lee Chandler is possibly his best work to date. With films in his repertoire such as Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, Affleck hits a new level in Manchester by the Sea, a level I’m not sure we even knew existed. In the most basic sense, Affleck’s Chandler is a troubled man. Chandler resonates on both sides of the spectrum as a quiet and unassuming man, and as an unpredictable intimidating force. I’m going to be throwing this word around for Manchester by the Sea a lot during this review, but truly “subtlety” is the greatest way to describe this film in reference to its story and acting. Affleck’s subtle approach is mesmerizing in the most intriguing way. Chandler is a character you yearn to learn more about. We’re given his story in pieces as the film progresses; we learn about his past in time and it’s a beautiful way to step away from bullet pointing our main character’s personality. 

Affleck’s subtle approach is mesmerizing in the most intriguing way.

These characters are flawed, as all characters should be. With Lucas Hedges as the young Patrick Chandler, Lee’s nephew, we come to understand this the most. There’s a distance within Patrick, a disconnect we never truly get unveiled and that’s what makes his character so interesting. There’s no end to these characters because Lonergran, Affleck, Hedges, and all others treat them like people. These aren’t words on a page. They’re living, breathing, flesh and there’s no end to human beings. There’s no final chapter in describing who a person is. Patrick is destroyed over his father’s death, but he never gives us the chance to truly see it. Hedges does a superb job at never truly letting the audience in completely. 

One of the main strengths of an actor is their ability to showcase their talents in a short amount of time. This is where Michelle Williams plays her part. There’s no surprise over her brilliant talent if you’ve seen her previous work, such as Blue Valentine. Williams bares her heart and soul in Manchester by the Sea in a small time frame. Whether it’s the flashbacks of a loving yet troubled family or her terribly complicated feelings towards Affleck’s Chandler, she gives us her all and never ever holds back. 

Hedges does a superb job at never truly letting the audience in completely. 

Manchester by the Sea gives its audience a lot of credit. When we’re thrown into flashbacks, there’s no timeline tags. Lonergran trusts his audience to follow the visual story that he’s presented to us in the film and he gives us the credit and confidence that we as viewers deserve. This says a lot about the type of film Manchester is. It doesn’t pull punches; it expects us to keep up and tough through the torture that our characters endure. It expects us to endure this torture with them and as a viewer you will. You will feel for these characters, you will pray for them, you will hope for the best and you’ll never know if they get it. Manchester by the Sea doesn’t exactly end. It just sort of exists in its time, and that’s kind of beautiful. Lonergan has set these characters in their reality and they live on within it. There’s no fin and that suits what the film set out to do. So I’ll leave you here, in an open ended review of a film you probably know very little about. Are you questioning the story of this film? Are you confused as to what exactly Manchester by the Sea is supposed to do? Good, go see it and experience it for yourself. 

**This is the first time I've ever given a film a 10 out of 10. I had to think long and hard about this all night and I just couldn't justify a reason why it should rate anything short of perfect. I hope you realize just how truly beautiful I feel this film is based on this rating.**

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