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Film Review: “Manchester by the Sea” (2016) ★★★★★


There are a few feelings you may experience as you watch Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea: melancholy, grief, sorrow and emptiness. Somehow, it gets under your skin, drills deep into your emotion to leave you in the end with the feeling of emptiness. And why shouldn’t you, as you become a part of the movie without even realizing it…

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) comes back to his hometown Manchester to take care of the funeral of his dearest brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) with whom he was extremely close. Joe’s last wish was that Lee becomes his teenage son, Patrick’s, guardian. Despite the special relationship that both Lee ad Patrick share, it’s the tragic event that happens in the past which dictates Lee’s approach towards Joe’s will, as insecurity, guilt and fear creates a challenge for Joe to fulfil his duty… As he recalls what happened to him years ago, a life defining moment for him, you could agree with him that, that tragedy is not an easy one to forget or to forgive…

The movie begins with Lee, Joe and still little Patrick Chandler on a boat named ‘Marie Claire’. Having a cheerful discussion brings a positive vibe to the opening scene, but a moment later that happiness quickly disappears from Lee’s face. Now he is angry, impatient and frustrated man who shows disrespect to the tenants of the apartments in the building where he works as a handyman. Seemingly happy man from the beginning, and now absolutely lost somewhere in his mind that hates everything that moves or even exits, you will certainly find yourself asking, ‘what is it that changed him so dramatically?’. But when the answer is provided, you will be surprised to see Lee Chandler still around…

As the story develops, the viewer gets a chance to travel to one dark night when Lee, after returning home from the convenience store, finds his house completely burnt out, including his two children. This is how we find out more about his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams) and how their path was separated. During Lee’s difficult moment, it was Patrick and Joe who were with him all the time, supporting him in the best possible way. Despite not being able to fill the gap destiny brought up as a nightmarish surprise, Joe and Patrick were a great help. Now, when Joe is no longer around, it’s Lee’s turn to provide the same level of support to Patrick, he once received from them…

Manchester by the Sea is superbly written and flawlessly directed by Kenneth Lonergan who captures the grief of one man in the most painful way possible. While Lonergan as a writer gives Randi a chance to move on with her life after such a great loss, however, Randi at some point will show that, in fact, she never was able to recover after that night… and never will. However, she still finds a way to build another life unlike Lee, who hardly could imagine his life without his two dearest children, as he was to be blamed for their death. Perhaps, this film would not be so emotionally impactful, if not for Casey Affleck’s tour-de-force performance where a ride he takes us to is an uncontrolled roller coaster with full of downs that not everyone can handle.

In conclusion, Manchester by the Sea is a powerful drama that is not easy to digest. Lonergan handles the film so well that despite it being so emotional, it leaves a dramatic side of it aside, letting the viewer to live with the life the Chandler family has. This film has a great recipe of ingredients that turns Manchester by the Sea the year’s best film so far: writing, directing, editing, soundtrack and indescribably beautiful performance by the entire cast that will stay with you after you watch it. As you understand Lee better, the pain he feels every single day, you see the perspective of a man and his way of coping with the loss of his children, which is truly heartbreaking. Even though by the time when you reach the end of the movie, you may tell that this was not real and nothing you saw in the film was true… But that won’t matter… because it never felt that way when you watched it.

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