Review: Manchester by the Sea (2016)


Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film is an insightful study of how people deal with loss, grief and trauma. A very powerful movie indeed that aims to show us that love can be healing and hope is always present. The story is unfolded slowly and requires our patience, but by the time it’s over, we realize that it has taught us many a lesson.

Our main character is Lee (Casey Affleck), an ordinary working man who lives in Boston. At the beginning, he seems like a normal single man who carries his everyday job with no flaws, no complains and most notably, no smiles. Until someday, he learns that his brother is dead, which forces him to go back to his hometown, Manchester, Minnesota, and take care of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), whose mother has left the family. Meanwhile, we get to see flashbacks of Lee’s former life in Manchester. There is a striking difference between the past and the present: Lee used to be happy. He had a wife (Michelle Williams), three children, his friends, his brother. So what happened? Well, a tragic mistake has cost him everything and continues to haunt him. Combined with all the memories he has to face in his hometown now, Lee is a wreck. 

Surprisingly, what seems to be a heavy burden, becomes his salvation. Lee is reluctant to become Patrick’s guardian, but as it turns out, their relationship becomes his redemption. It seems that he has forgotten how it is to care for someone. It seems that he has finally a reason to live, something that he lacked for some time. He is not expressive, not at all. However, you can see that his life with Patrick does him good. It is obvious when in the last scene he does something he hasn’t done in quite a while: he smiles. Not just a smirk or a movement of his lips, but a true, heartfelt smile.

The film is powerful and filled with emotion and it’s impressive how Kenneth Lonergan can transmit so many feelings through a character so self-contained. Casey Affleck delivers the performance of his life with the rest of the cast doing an excellent job as well. What I loved the most was how beautiful the picture was both visually and aurally. I was surprised when I noticed that although the film was nominated for a lot of awards, it got no nominations for the score apart from a Satellite award. I hope that next month’s Oscars will not overlook it. If there is something missing from Manchester by the Sea, it is a climax. Every scene seems like another day in the life, nothing too memorable. This is the only drawback (if you can call it a drawback) I could note. I’m afraid this may result in the film being forgotten in the near future, so you’d better go watch it now.