Manchester by the Sea
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
After hearing all of the hype behind a movie co-produced by Matt Damon, I decided to check out whether or not it was worth watching. After all, the film received six Academy Award nominations and actually won for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. The accolades didnít stop there. After reading a description of the film, I decided that Manchester by the Sea might be something I would want to watch.
The movie centers around Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) who we meet when he is working as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts. Lee appears to go through the motions of life, following a routine and getting the job done at the apartment complex, but he doesnít seem to have much of a life besides that. While shoveling snow at the complex, Lee is notified that his brother has suffered cardiac arrest. Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies before Lee can get to the hospital and it is up to him to tell Joe's teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), about his death.
The death alone is a shock to the two, but what comes next is even more surprising. Joe has named Lee the guardian of Patrick. It would mean moving back to Manchester-by-the-Sea and a responsibility to a minor that Lee is simply unprepared for. This revelation brings on flashbacks regarding why he left the town in the first place. We learn that Lee was happily married to his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and had three young children. After a night of partying hard with some friends, Lee accidentally causes the house to go up in flames, killing his three young children. Learning that there will be no punishment for his actions, he attempts suicide in the local police station.
Since then, Lee has been a broken man, going through life like a zombie, never allowing himself to feel. The idea that his brother would place his only son in Leeís hands is not only a shock to Lee, but it brings up feelings of anguish and disbelief. Lee canít understand how Joe could leave his only son to a man who wasnít responsible enough to keep his own family safeÖwho actually caused his children to die. The guilt over the loss of his children consumes him and threatens to get in the way of the bond he can have with Patrick.
There is some profoundly good acting in this film. Casey Affleck is excellent as a man who appears to be socially awkward, but is really suffering such mind-crippling grief that he canít seem to be approachable. In his mind, Lee doesnít deserve to be happy or, in fact, to even be alive. Thus, he wanders through life as if in a trance. Only his nephew has any chance of bringing him out of that state, but this change is not going to be quick in coming, if it can be achieved at all. I havenít seen much of Casey Affleckís work, but I can honestly say that he has some real talent based upon his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Though he is surrounded by supporting actors, his is really the only performance that hits you. That Best Actor award was well deserved.
The filmmakers made great use of the already natural beauty of the area, framing it just right at all the perfect moments. Despite the anguish and despair of the characters, that beautiful landscape shines through, signaling the dawning of a new day, whether or not the main character wants to see it. Just listening to the peaceful sound of the water and the birds and seeing that beautiful scenery makes Leeís loss even that more potent, because he can never let it touch him due to his grief and guilt.
Manchester by the Sea is a difficult movie to watch for those who strive for that happy ending. I donít want to give anything away, but if you think that this movie was designed to have an aha moment that leads to everyone embracing and coming together in song and dance, Iíd like to dispel that delusion. This is a film notable for its drama, not for its feel-good qualities. Only serious fans of dramatic screenplays need apply, but if you are a fan of those kinds of movies, I definitely would recommend this film as one of the better displays of the drama of a grief that is difficult to overcome.