The start of any new year guarantees the onslaught of award-worthy cinematic releases just in time for the season, for most we are really spoilt for choice. One picture worth mentioning is Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, a gut-wrenching drama with a thought-provoking yet laborious storyline and exceptional performances from its stellar cast.
Lonergan, who is quite clearly trying to build on the critical success of Margaret, relies wholeheartedly on his cast, especially that of Casey Affleck who plays our main protagonist, Lee. With the narrative focus firmly weighing down on his tiny frame, Affleck’s Lee is a man with vast psychological issues touching gently on the reality of life through his arctic disposition to those around him and those he has chosen to distance himself from.
As we enter we see Lee, a nonchalant handyman with no filter, fixing toilets and clearing pathways, choosing to live a lonely life with the aid of a beer or two and a desire to start fights. He is a man perfectly happy to be unhappy in a non-existing life. That is until his elder brother – who had a serious heart condition and alcoholic ex-wife – passes away suddenly. Lee makes the trip back home to find out his brother has left guardianship of his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) to him causing Lee to spiral into his own world of unwanted memories. As Lee starts to bond with a teenage Patrick, Lonergan takes us back to various points in Lee’s earlier life via flashbacks building a picture of a happier man who once was full of life and love for his family, from boys’ days out on the boat with his brother and nephew to a normal married life with his now ex-wife Randi – played one-dimensionally by Michelle Williams – each scene unfolding with atmospheric delicacy to finally reveal the horrendous events that made Lee into the man he is now.
The visual and narrative tone is shrouded in melancholy from start to finish but Lonergan has infused light humour to lift in some of the darker times, especially so, in scenes between Lee and nephew Patrick. Even though Patrick has lost his father he feels somewhat responsible for bringing his uncle out of his black hole. Like most teenage boys, he is overconfident and plays on this strength to try and bring the straight-faced Lee out of his shell including trying to fix him up with one of his girlfriend’s mothers.
It’s clear to see why Manchester By The Sea has already been nominated for numerous awards, with Casey Affleck giving a career-defining performance which is sure to convince he’s worthy. From an emotionally charged scene in a police station towards the closing of the picture, to the dark poignant storyline which unravels slowly but comes complete with an intriguing yet horrifying back story, Lonergan and Affleck are sure to be filling their cabinets full of shiny statues.