Upon learning of the death of his brother, Boston handyman Lee Chandler (Affleck) returns to his former home of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, where he is faced with individuals and events that have plagued his past
This is Casey Affleck’s film. He delivers one of the, if not the best performance of the year. He becomes one with his Lee Chandler, to the point where the audience no longer sees the actor, but the character. Affleck is given a good amount of range in regards to emotion, from quieter, more subtle scenes to scenes that require heartbreaking emotion, and he excels in all of it. The way that he moves and speaks is completely natural. This shines at its most in his banter with his co-star Lucas Hedges, who plays his nephew, Patrick. With accurate-sounding Bostonian dialect coupled with great timing on the part of the actors, not only are these dialogue scenes natural sounding, but completely invigorating.
Although this is Affleck’s film, his co-stars are nothing short of incredible. Lucas Hedges is also excellent in this film. This is his first major acting role and, well, he is going to be star. There’s an incredible chemistry between him and Affleck, as they bounce off of each other with seemingly effortlessness. Not only does he sell his dialogue scenes with Affleck, but when it gets to the point where he needs to display some raw emotions, he nails it. The kid rips the audience's heart out. There’s a complexity to his character. His performance, like Affleck's, is also subtle with a lot going on underneath. The performance from the 20-year-old actor is a testament to his talent and maturity, he isn’t too scared or embarrassed to honestly portray a character that isn’t always flattering.
Michelle Williams is also incredible, but very different from Affleck and Hedges as. She plays Randi, Lee’s ex-wife. Whereas the previous two actors portrayed subtler characters that weren’t the most outspoken about their emotions, Williams plays a much more showy role. She’s a louder, more animated cryer than the other two, and on the onset this may be off putting. It’s a stark contrast when she shows up, which isn’t often, but often enough where it sticks out. It comes across as overacting at first, but upon further thought, this may have been the intention. She is a stark contrast with Affleck and Hedges, because her character is. Her character highlights Lee and Patrick’s standoffishness by being the opposite of them, and Williams plays it brilliantly.
Kyle Chandler isn’t given a whole lot to work with, but with he’s given, he does a decent job. This isn’t too surprising though, as he plays the brother, Joe, who is dead. That’s doesn’t require very much range. Joking aside, Chandler does get a chance to act not dead in several flashback scenes, and again, he’s good. Nothing notable, but it serves the film. He also shares a last name with many of the characters, which makes writing this review a little confusing.
With all of these great performances, director Kenneth Lonergan is the glue that holds them all together. Yes, the dialogue is brilliant, which he also wrote. Yes, Affleck and Hedges have incredible chemistry, with Williams working as a great contrast. As good as these aspects are, they would not succeed if not for the incredible pace that he directs the film at. They way that he frames and sequences shots with cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes and edits with editor Jennifer Lame creates an impeccable flow to the frame. It moves at an engaging pace that’s the audience hooked almost all the way through. Granted, this isn’t always the case, as the film does take a little bit of time to get going, but once it hits, it doesn’t stop. It entrances the audience, making an almost two and a half hour movie move in a snap.
“Manchester by the Sea” is one of the best films of the year. Its writing is beautiful. Its performances are transformative, both displaying the incredible talents of Casey Affleck and Michelle WIlliams and making a star out of Lucas Hedges. Its pace, though a little slow to get started, is mesmerizing once it does. Director Kenneth Lonergan crafts all of these together to make an incredible work of art. It isn’t in too many theatres at the moment, but if the chance ever comes, see it immediately. It’s worth anyone’s time and money, and then some.