A handyman, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is suddenly relocated to his home town after the death of his brother leaves him the legal guardian of his 16 year old nephew, Patrick. But his return home brings the tragedy of his past again to the fore.
Though Manchester by the Sea is one of the few festival favourites significantly pushed to mainstream audiences this winter, I wouldn’t say was the ideal film for mainstream viewers to watch to begin treading into indie territory. The film’s delicate approach is commendable, but its swelling sadness and lengthy running time may leave some viewers feeling alienated or bored. It is film at its least manipulative, flowing naturally, its moments of most stark emotion springing up unexpectedly, just like in real life – a random phone call, a chance encounter in the street, or the tragic accident which I dare not detail for spoilers. But whilst this paints beautifully the real life struggles of its central character, it means there is little climax, little crescendo, little pay-off for our efforts. We get an ending, but its resolution is hardly positive.
Manchester by the Sea uses a delicate and unimposing flashback structure to link the present and the past. It is well-orchestrated, but it slows the pace of the film and may alienate viewers even further. What will keep them absorbed is the film’s compelling lead character, well performed by Casey Affleck. This is a man who has an anger problem, a man who refuses to make small talk, a man who has no trouble wearing the displeasure of the burden of looking after his nephew on his sleeve. He is, nevertheless, likeable. He carries himself with a calmness and composure, and sometimes his wisdom seeps through to Patrick. The beauty of his personality is swamped by the tragic past he is forced to carry everywhere with him. After Manchester by the Sea’s close, what will stay in viewers’ minds are no thrilling scenes, but is Casey Affleck’s graceful depiction of a human life faced with overwhelming grief, guilt and heartbreak. Accompanying it, perhaps, will be a greater depth of understanding of what it means to suffer from them.