Recently nominated for six Academy Awards, Manchester by the Sea is a stunningly intimate study of how people deal with hardship and grief. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me, Margaret) and starring Boston-native Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Gone Baby Gone), the film tells the story of Lee Chandler (Affleck) returning to his hometown in order to take care of his nephew, Patrick Chandler (Lucas Hedges, Moonrise Kingdom), after his brother Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights) dies. Upon his return, he must begin to face the demons that drove him away from his hometown in the first place. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine) plays Lee’s ex-wife, Randi, and steals the show with a scene late in the film’s third act.
Lonergan has crafted a beautiful meditation on grief and tragedy with Manchester by the Sea. All of the characters experience loss in the film, and Lonergan explores these themes in a structurally interesting way, which will not be spoiled here. The dialogue is sharp and believable, delivered with perfection by his outstanding cast. Propelling him to frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Actor, Casey Affleck gives the performance of his career. His portrayal of Lee is subtle and quiet, but the pain Affleck has in his eyes, and the way he carries himself immediately inform you of who Lee is. Lucas Hedges demonstrates incredible emotional range as Lee’s teenage nephew, and their relationship forms the heart of the film. In fact, their exchanges are actually quite humorous, which balances out the other heavy material.
The film has an unusual history, starting with its inception in 2014. Originally, Matt Damon was set to star in and direct the film, with Lonergan solely writing the script; however, scheduling conflicts forced Damon off the project, though he still produced. Damon passed the role onto Affleck, and filming commenced on location in Manchester by the Sea, Massachusetts in spring 2015. After it premiered to rave reviews at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Amazon Studios purchased the distribution rights for $10.5 million.
Interestingly, Manchester by the Sea has connections to Belmont Hill. Mr. McCarthy and some of the Belmont Hill Varsity Hockey team are featured within the film because he knew a producer for the film, and both Mr. McCarthy and Belmont Hill are thanked in the film’s credits. The hockey team fills in for Patrick’s hockey teammates, while Mr. McCarthy plays a coach. Mr. McCarthy’s performance in the one frame in which he was featured individually was critically acclaimed, and when the Academy failed to nominate him for Best Supporting Actor, the film community was outraged. Sadly, Belmont Hill will have to wait a little longer to bring home Oscar gold.