Recovering from a devastating loss varies from person to person, and no better example of that can be found than in Kenneth Lonergan’s shattering Manchester by the Sea, an intimate character study so exact and so detailed that it’s impossible to look away, no matter how painful or poignant it is.
The Production: 5/5
Recovering from a devastating loss varies from person to person, and no better example of that can be found than in Kenneth Lonergan’s shattering Manchester by the Sea, an intimate character study so exact and so detailed that it’s impossible to look away, no matter how painful or poignant it is. With commanding performances following through with this story of life and loss, Manchester by the Sea earns all of the plaudits it’s received during this award season.
When his dear brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies from complications due to congestive heart disease, his younger brother Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is flabbergasted to learn that his brother has named him as the guardian for his sixteen year-old nephew Patrick (Ben O’Brien as a child, Lucas Hedges as a teenager). Lee had left Manchester some years ago fleeing from the memories of a personal tragedy from which he still hasn’t recovered (nor have many residents of the area who don’t see Lee’s return to town as a positive event), but guardianship of Patrick means either taking him away from his friends and moving him to his cramped quarters in Quincy or Lee’s returning to Manchester to see if he can restart his life there.
Director Kenneth Lonergan has written the screenplay incorporating numerous flashbacks during Lee’s shaky time in Manchester attempting to see if he can adjust to life there once again, flashbacks that fill in the backstory concerning his relationships with his brother, his nephew, his own home life with wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and three children, and his relationship with the town which all comes crumbling down along with the walls and roof of his home after a fire which he inadvertently started consumes it. These memories, some hilarious and some so wrenching that one’s heart breaks, form the core of the movie, sprinkled in among Lee’s torturous attempts to bond with his teenaged nephew, his brother’s born again ex-wife (Gretchen Mol) and her creepy new husband (Matthew Broderick), and find a way to reconcile his overwhelming sense of grief and loss with his new circumstances. While the movie runs well over two hours, none of it seems meandering or pointless, and we get so caught up in both Lee and Patrick’s stories of monumental changes and their own unique coping mechanisms that the time passes by before we know it. Director Lonergan has beautifully and lovingly shot bars and neighborhoods and marinas that give a gracious sense of time and place to the movie, and the seasonal differences we glimpse throughout mirror some of the inner workings which our two protagonists are trying so hard to push down and not deal with.
It’s a revelatory performance for Casey Affleck here. Lee is a man with raging emotions bottled up and unarticulated (he actually finds it hard to ever put his exact thoughts into words; his stammering and reticence to speak is one of the character’s most endearing traits to a viewer but most maddening to people with whom he comes into contact), but occasionally his emotions explode into physical violence, sometimes to himself and sometimes to others in the vicinity of his rage. Throughout, it’s a mesmerizing performance. Lucas Hedges’ Patrick is bubbling with hormones, juggling two girl friends, his father’s boat, places on the school basketball and hockey teams, and his lead guitar role in a band, and his performance offers the older generation a sly, spry look at what today’s teens have on their minds. Michelle Williams gets some prime moments to shine in key scenes before and after the tragedy that forever changed her life, and her final confrontation with Lee on a Manchester street is stunningly emotional and one of the great scenes in any of this year’s films. Kyle Chandler is a sturdy older brother in the flashback moments with his son and his brother, and C.J. Wilson plays the family’s best friend George with grace and thoughtfulness. Matthew Broderick and Gretchen Mol offer a very awkward picture of one kind of life Patrick might be living had events gone in another direction.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. This is a beautiful transfer capturing the sprightly spring colors and the gray, hazy winter ones in all their glory and with accurate flesh tones. Sharpness is usually quite excellent except for a few softer-looking images in over-the-shoulder shots while driving in various vehicles. Black levels are very deep in some of the few nighttime sequences, and contrast has been consistently applied throughout the presentation. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix provides the strongest surround elements with Lesley Barber’s background score and a host of classical and rock music used as accompaniment. Dialogue has been superbly recorded and has mostly been resigned to the center channel with just the trace of some directionalized dialogue during an off-screen telephone conversation early on that allows us to begin gauging Lee’s extreme emotional withdrawal. Ambient sounds are quite effective when utilized (a hockey scrimmage brings the surround channels alive, and harbor sounds likewise get some spread through the soundfield).
Special Features: 3/5
Audio Commentary: it’s called a “conversation” in the bonus features, but it’s writer-director Kenneth Lonergan in a give and take with content producer Peter Ventrella as they work their way through the film: its story, themes, performers, and production.
Emotional Lives: The Making of Manchester by the Sea (16:00, HD): writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, producers Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh, and Chris Moore, and actors Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Gretchen Mol discuss the film’s depths of emotion and heartrending story.
Deleted Scenes (5:50, HD): three scenes may be played separately or in montage.
Promo Trailers (HD): Southside with You, Patriot’s Day, Indignation, La La Land, and Café Society.
DVD/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
One of the year’s most outstanding and heartrending achievements, Manchester by the Sea mixes the joys and sorrows of life in realistic measure forging one of the most emotionally powerful films seen in some time. Highly recommended!