Manchester by the Sea is possibly the film that brings Casey Affleck out of the shadow of older brother, Ben, in terms of acting prowess. The heart-breaking and bleak storyline brings out the absolute best in Affleck, and with a Golden Globe already under his belt, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him grab an Oscar at the end of this month either.
He plays Lee Chandler, a janitor in Boston, leading a mundane and exiled life following a dark tragedy in his life. After learning that his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died, he finds himself back in his hometown of Manchester, where he discovers that he will have to look after Joe’s 16-year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Lee now finds himself in a difficult position, fighting demons in his past and now struggling to come to terms with having to take on the huge task of his selfish and reluctant nephew. As the film progresses, we learn more about Lee’s past, discovering that he was a social, happy go lucky kind of guy as well as a loving husband, father and uncle to a younger Patrick. That is until the incident that turns him into this cold, deadpan character as the film continues to evolve with Lee’s past and present beginning to converge.
It’s hard to see the Oscar for best actor heading anywhere other than Affleck’s direction. The piece of casting for Lee is an absolute masterstroke as Affleck nails this fractured, empty soul yet with something so dark brooding deep inside which is so difficult for an actor to portray. There are certain aspects of Affleck that display this perfectly whether it is his slumped shoulders or his motionless facial features. They don’t give away much, but you know for sure that there is a rage and ache deep inside of Lee, showing no real emotion despite the occasional angry outburst at a customer and the odd scrap in a bar.
Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan also does a cracking job of setting the tone of the movie. The snow and frostiness of the scenery captures the cold nature of the movie, and there are certain dull and uneventful moments throughout the film that will bypass without any consideration but will gradually build the feeling of pain and difficulty amongst the characters. This can be something as basic as being unable to find a parked car. Simple and mundane, but more effective than one might originally think.
There’s no doubt Manchester by the Sea will leave its audience in a dark place and guarantees the odd tear, and credit has to go to Lonergan as well as Affleck for his gloomy performance – he will be seeing gold come the end of the month for sure. The movie in general will leave a sour taste in your mouth, but in a good way.