Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
The first time I tried watching Manchester by the Sea I was onboard a plane returning to Canada. I got about 15 minutes in and had to turn it off. I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was me, but I couldn’t get into it. That was over a week ago and I’ve watched two other Oscar nominated films since. From what I’d seen and heard I knew it could be a bit of a downer so I waited for the right moment before trying again. I’m glad I waited.
This movie starts slow and maintains a deliberate pace the whole way through. It’s in no rush to move the plot along and I would argue it has one of the least engaging opening acts that I’ve seen in some time. In many ways it puts a lot of the burden on the audience to engage themselves. To the film’s credit it doesn’t pull any manipulative tricks to ingratiate you with its main character Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler. Which is saying a lot because in many ways this is a movie that revolves around him. But you really don't even have a fraction of an understanding of who he is until at least half way into the movie. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan revels in the way the film wallows in the tragedy of Lee’s life. He crafts this story around a man who is completely broken. A man who has exiled himself to cope with tragedy and lives a life of self imposed misery only to be reminded of everything by more tragedy. Fair warning; this is not a happy movie.
Manchester by the Sea can be best described in one word: grey. On almost every level this movie lacks warmth. Certainly from an emotional perspective but also visually and musically. The muted colour palette matches the tone to a tee. It's this somberness that makes every character interaction and lingering shot at the sea that much more impactful.
When it comes to Casey Affleck’s performance I thought that he was really quite good. But unfortunately not great. Yes, we see a broken man on screen but we are treated to little else than the emotional wall he puts up. He’s great at being detached but I would have liked to have seen a bit more of an exploration of his internal anguish. As I said, this movie revolves around him and I would have liked to have seen them delve a bit deeper. Lee Chandler is a haunted man and rather than really digging into that, it's left to the audience to interpret the myriad of patented Affleck looks.
This film seems to wander from plot line to plot line in almost no discernable order making it hard to pin down where it's trying to take you at first. But the movie uses jump cuts to reveal events from Lee’s past that really help to contextualize what he’s going through in the present. Its through these flashbacks that the movie really started to come alive for me.
This movie hinges on Casey Affleck and I think that it ultimately succeeds because of him. The most fascinating part of the film was the character of Lee Chandler and, frankly, I could probably write a 10 page dissertation on what makes that character tick. Which is why I was maybe a little disappointed that they didn't explore it more. That being said, it’s absolutely deserving of the Oscar nomination and, as tough as I think it can be to get into, if you can find something in this film to latch onto, and invest yourself, I think you’ll be rewarded.
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