Manchesterbythesea

Directing just three films over a period of 16 years Ken Lonergan has always been a filmmaker of quality over quantity. His terrific debut film You Can Count on Me won the grand prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, and earned Oscar nominations for both his screenplay, and Laura Linney’s performance. His second 2011 film Margaret had an uphill battle getting made, but was ultimately received with favorable reviews upon its long awaited release. His most recent film Manchester by the Sea feels like his most personal, and thoughtful film to date. It packs an emotional punch, and features two of the best performances of the year.

We are first introduced to Casey Affleck’s character Lee living in a sad basement apartment in Boston where he works a handyman. A broken shell of a man we come to see that he carries a lot of emotional baggage. Living in a sparsely furnished apartment with only pictures of his kids on his dresser, Lee lives almost as a ghost of the greater man that he once was. When Lee gets a phone call about the death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) he is sent back to Manchester, Connecticut to help take care of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedge). Lee finds out from Joe’s will that he’s left as Lucas’s legal guardian, and that his brother requested for him to move back to Manchester to take care of him full time.

Not having seen the teenage Patrick since he was a child Lee is thrown in the role of a guardian. His recently married ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) reaches out of him at the funeral for words of comfort. Randi remained close to Lee’s brother in the years after their separation. This journey back to his hometown proves to be difficult for Lee as his past is heartbreaking past is slowly revealed in flashbacks.

The film has this undeniable power for how humanely it sees its broken characters. The past carries an emotional weight for everyone, and no one carries it more than Lee. Affleck’s career defining performance can’t help but resonate deeply. With that signature raspy voice Affleck has never quite embodied a character quite like Lee. But, we shouldn’t be surprised this actor had this kind of emotional depth. He’s more than proved it from his past roles like his Oscar nominated turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The once underrated Affleck deserves to be ranked up there with great american actors like Marlon Brando, or Meryl Streep.

No scene this year will be more devastating than the powerful moment between Affleck and Williams as they come to terms with their past on a cold Connecticut street corner. There’s a reason it was picked to be on the main image on the poster for the film. William’s monologue left this critic a slobbery mess, and it will no doubt secure an Oscar nomination for herself, and Affleck. It might be one of the best-acted scenes in movie history.

What makes Lonergan’s remarkable as a director, and screenwriter is his honest view of the human condition. From our complicated family relationships, to the everyday mundane headaches like bumping your head, or forgetting where you parked the car. He shows compassion to every character whether they deserve it or not. Manchester By The Sea checks off box in what makes a great movie, and it’s something a little more than your average awards bait. It’s a sincere, and ultimately uplifting movie about regular people dealing with life’s difficult journey.