Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is a really good movie. It's award season, and this film has been one of the frontrunners so far in terms of nominations, making it likely that it will receive a couple of Oscar nominations down the line.
This is a small film, in the best possible way, a drama that builds the engagement of the audience with it's characters with an outstanding patience. There are few moments of great escalation, and most of them happen in the past, shown in flashbacks to inform the damaged state in which we meet our protagonist.
Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, is a beaten man with a clear alcohol problem. He works as the janitor in Boston for four buildings, underpayed and fine with it. He does his job well, but gets in trouble with the tenants because he has no patience, and no interest in playing nice. There doesn't seem to be anything Lee is really living for, and no sense of ambition to change his situation. Then he gets a call from the hospital in his former hometown, Manchester. His brother has died after struggling with heart disease for a long time, and Lee has to take care of the funeral, and most of all of Patrick, his 16 year old nephew. There is no other family around, Patrick's mother is an alcoholic and has not been around for years. Early own we learn that Lee has an ex-wife, and she and how she became his ex will be crucial to our understanding of him.
Lee's brother has appointment him as guardian for Patrick in his will, and Lee is faced with the challenging task to build a bond with his nephew and the prospect of spending much more time in Manchester, where he seems to be infamous for some reason and is clearly uncomfortable with it. His challenge to deal with his new role in spite the fact that his own life is in ruins and he is emotionally broken is the main conflict of the movie.
Casey Affleck does a remarkable job with this role, which has so far earned him a Golden Globe. He portraits Lee as man that is able to function, but clearly miserable, a man with a hard shell but a deep vulnerability at the same time. His nephew is played by Lucas Hedges, whom I have seen in a couple of Wes Anderson movies before, but this is clearly his breakout role. He gives another one of this films many great performances.
Another star of the film is certainly Manchester-by-the-sea itself, a small coastal town in Massachusetts, which is the perfect backdrop for this film. As it is set in winter, the town has a certain roughness, snowy, cold, windy, and grey. The film takes a lot of time to dwell on this environment, adding to it's atmosphere.
As I said, I liked this movie a lot. A sincere study of grieve and extreme emotional hardship, told slowly and deliberately. One is almost surprised towards the end how much the characters have grown on one and how earnest their relations feel. This is a sign of the very well rounded characters, to have very believable arcs during the, helping it to end on a hopeful, but nevertheless realistic, note. Definitively a highlight of the outgoing cinema year of 2016.