I got the chance to see the European premiere of Manchester by the Sea, one of the biggest films of 2016. When I mean ‘the chance’ I actually meant I forked out £60 for two tickets to see Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film. Touted as an awards contender, Manchester by the Sea sees Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) return to his home town, Manchester by the Sea, following the death of his brother, Joey (Kyle Chandler) who suffered from a serious heart condition. In returning to his home town, Lee has to deal with his history, including a traumatic past event, his ex-wife (Michelle Williams), and his brother’s son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Kenneth Lonergan’s film is likely to garner a heap of award nominations come Oscar season with Casey Affleck leading the charge for Best Actor in his exceptional role as Lee Chandler, a man returning to the past he tried to escape from. Affleck does a remarkable job showing Lee’s understated reaction to the loss of his brother, of whom he cared for deeply but also showing his more expressive, angerier side. His understated emotional side and more expressive aggressive side are linked as the difficult place Lee finds himself emotionally leads to his rash, aggressive behavior. Lucas Hedges is impressive as Patrick, and Lucas shares a good chemistry with Casey as the pair’s relationship gets the most laughs out of Lonergan’s often witty script. Michelle Williams is also superb in the supporting role, with one scene in particular being a highlight.
One of the main themes of the film is male relationships within a family, especially father-son and brotherly relationships. Patrick is clearly distraught from his dad’s death (with the panic attack being the most traumatic moment), who clearly played an important role in Patrick’s life as many people commented on how great of a man and a father he was. Many discussions about fathers in the film often have someone discussing the fact that they also lost a father at the same time Patrick did, it shows the importance of a fatherly figure at an age where a child makes the transition into adulthood, this is where Lee comes in. Lee is deeply unsuited to take care of Patrick, the relationship they share does seem to be more of an older brother type relationship with Lee threatning to knock Patrick's block off. The relationship that Patrick and Lee share is deeply poignant as both reflect happily on the close relationship the pair shared when Patrick was younger. As they got older, and Lee moved to Boston, they grew apart, but there’s a sense that Patrick would have drifted without Lee acting as an anchor through this difficult time.
Manchester by the Sea is a beautifully made film, Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography captures the picturesque setting of the small, New England fishing village, and it almost takes an onlookers view on proceedings as though the film wishes not to intrude on the family’s suffering until we get to know them better (the script, which reveals more about Lee as the film goes on, adds to this). What’s even more impressive is the work of Jennifer Lame in the editing room, as Lee is driving back to Manchester the film flashes back to the times Lee spent with his brother and nephew on the fishing boat, as though Lee was, himself, reflecting back on that time on the drive back to Manchester by the Sea. On the negative side, the use of music doesn’t fully work as it seems that the music is used to evoke emotion when it wasn’t really needed as the story is poignant (but never deeply moving) without the use of affecting, orchestral music
Come awards season Manchester by the Sea will deservedly play a major role, expect this to be nominated for a number of major awards.