Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan, Erica McDermott, Matthew Broderick, Gretchen Mol
Country: United States
Runtime: 137 minutes
Synopsis: After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) has to return to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, his 15-year-old nephew, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised [Source: Metacritic]
Even if his name might not sound familiar, US filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan is one of the most acclaimed directors of independent cinema nowadays. He captivated Sundance with his magnificent debut, You Can Count On Me, in 2000; and he kept us waiting until 2011, date in which he released his second feature film Margaret (the movie with the most despicable main role you will ever see, by the way). Two movies in 11 years, though, were enough to become a figure celebrated among critics because of his precise and deep understanding of the human soul. Five years later, Lonergan is back with his best movie up to date: Manchester by the Sea, a powerful drama about death and grief, love and hope. The six nominations that the film has received in the Oscars, including best picture and best director, together with the dozens of other awards already obtained, give evidence of the quality of this must-see masterpiece from this year’s film crop.
The first 20 minutes of the film are a bit of a challenge for the spectator: you’re shown the daily life of Lee (Casey Affleck), a plumber that lives and works in Boston. He seems lonely, he doesn’t talk much, he doesn’t seem to care much about others. One day, he gets a call: his brother is dead, and he has to go back to his hometown and take care of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). As viewer, at the beginning, I struggle to figure out what these two characters have inside their heads, why they react the way they do. But this is precisely the position where the film wants you to be: the entire narrative is devoted then to understand their motivations, their conflicts and to sympathise with them. This is partially thanks to the powerful work of the actors (both of them Oscar nominated), but Lonergan also displays all his talent in order to achieve it: through a sober and delicate mise-en-scène, and alternating between two different temporal spheres (the past and the present), he gets to humanize this story of wounded souls.
That is, I think, the best way of describing Manchester by the Sea: as human. This is a human movie. A movie about loss, about how we mourn the people we love, and how we are able (or not) to move on. There is nothing more human than that: life and death, and the way we deal with it. As in life, the dark and the bright moments are here intertwined with each other. Lonergan, taking a considerable risk, is capable of conveying this paradox in the film: Manchester is as heartbreaking as you might assume, but it is also unexpectedly funny. Tender and tough, moving and beautiful, this is a movie that you really have to see. No matter what happens in the Oscars, where La La Land will surely win. Manchester by the sea doesn’t have songs, dances and flashy colours, but it is one of the most powerful emotional experiences you will have in the cinema this year.