“Manchester by the Sea” is a haunting movie that is beautifully shot and superbly acted. It is deeply affecting as it explores the tragedies that befall a blue-collar family and their struggles to overcome them.
The focal point of the story is Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck in the performance of his career. The reserved Lee works as a handyman who hardly says a word until the fuse is lit on his quick temper.
We find him living a solitary life when he receives a call that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away. Lee reluctantly returns to his hometown of Manchester, Mass., to handle his brother’s affairs and look after Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Lee begins having run-ins with the people and places from his past and through a series of flashbacks a fuller picture of Lee’s tragic personal history comes into view.
One particular parking lot encounter with his ex-wife Randi (wonderfully played by Michelle Williams) is about as heartbreaking a scene as you’ll find in a movie.
In the end, “Manchester by the Sea” makes the case some things in life are simply too big to overcome no matter how great the stakes are.
In spite of this cripplingly depressing premise, there is an undercurrent of hope that bubbles beneath the surface of this movie, especially in the relationship built between Lee and Patrick, and seems to say even though redemption may not always be possible, forgiveness is.
Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan never flinches as he peels back the layers of these tragic characters and manages to find dignity in their working-class roots without romanticizing them.
He also, along with cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, finds a lot of quiet beauty in this sleepy, seaside, New England town.
Ultimately, this movie is marked by its emotional power and most of the credit for that goes to the cast.
The supporting players are all great and don’t be surprised to see Williams nab a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars. But this movie lives or dies with Affleck, who delivers on every level. His pained performance makes him a virtual lock for a Best Actor nomination and will likely vault him up the Hollywood leading man food chain.
“Manchester by the Sea” is an award-caliber movie on all fronts and one that will stick with you long after it is over.
“Manchester by the Sea” is rated R for language throughout and some sexual content.