"Manchester by the Sea" is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and it stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a quiet and introverted man who is suddenly granted custody of his nephew after the death of his brother, also the boy's father. The movie basically follows Lee and his nephew, Patrick as they learn about one another while Lee also faces some demons from his own past, all of this taking place in the small town of Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts.
This is one of those movies where the performances play a big part in driving things home. For a while now, Casey Affleck has been considered a heavy favorite for the Best Actor Oscar because of his performance in this film and I can see why. He does an excellent job of portraying this mysterious, reserved man who has obviously been through some rough ordeals in life, but he also begins to show signs of life reemerging as the movie progresses and Affleck nails everything in this role. Though I have to say that while Affleck is great in everything he does, the big surprise performance of this film is that of young Lucas Hedges. This is the young talent in the making as he gives a very subtle performance that makes you feel like you're really watching a genuine teenager deal with such a life changing event.
Other supporting performances include Kyle Chandler as Lee's brother, giving a solid performance and showing why I've always considered him to be one of the more underrated actors working right now. Michelle Williams is also great in this movie and while she has much less screen time than I was expecting, she still nearly steals every scene she's in. I say nearly considering that she also shares scenes with Affleck and given how terrific he is, it's hard to put these two actors together and single out who gave the better performance.
This is one of those movies that I praise for being slow, but rarely boring. This is a dialogue-driven film that's also very quiet in some scenes, letting you soak in what a certain character is enduring in a given situation. The way Lonergan directs this movie is actually quite special. He lets you have a clear understanding of the characters' predicaments and all he really has to do is hold a shot on two characters simply talking. It's genuinely investing for a large majority the film, showing that you can make a slow movie every bit as engaging as an action-packed blockbuster.
The best area of praise for this movie is just how well written the screenplay is. It immediately sets up Lee as a quiet character who's had some problems in the past, but it's really the mystery of his character that keeps you interested. As the movie goes on, more revelations are made, some much more subtle than others, and you finally get a sense of not only Lee as a person, but everyone around him such as his nephew and his brother. This movie is definitely Lee's story and how he's coping with certain things in life, but the screenplay deserves credit for staying focused on his story while fleshing out the other characters as well.
"Manchester by the Sea" is an extremely well made film with uniformly fantastic, strong writing and directing from Kenneth Lonergan, and a really simple, yet interesting story about one man and his struggles in life as he tries to make things better for him and everyone around him. The fact that this is a slow, dialogue heavy movie will turn some people away, but for anyone else who sounds slightly interested in this movie, I'd easily recommend it.
Rating: Full Price!