Manchester By The Sea (2016)
This critically-acclaimed film was one of the ‘must-sees’ of 2016. I got to it almost three years later, attracted by the presence of Casey Affleck in the lead role. I admired his work in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James…’, and ‘The Killer Inside Me’, so I was interested to watch him in this slow-burning family drama. He got the Best Actor Oscar for his role too, so I guessed he must have been doing something right.
New England, a working-class fishing community, and a loner who works as a janitor in Boston. Lee (Affleck) is an angry man, living a solitary life spent cleaning up and repairing things in the apartments he supervises for the landlord. He argues with the tenants, gets drunk in local bars, and his fuse is incredibly short. We quickly get the idea that this man cares little about other people, or his own behaviour. In flashback, we see his memories of life in the small fishing community. His wife and children, his brother and nephew, and his elderly parents. He was a loving father, but also a party person, showing his immaturity frequently.
As we follow Lee around his daily routine, and live out his recent past through the many flashbacks, there is an undeniable sense that something bad has happened, or is about to.
And it did, and there is.
One day at work, Lee gets a phone call to tell him that his brother is seriously ill, following a heart attack. He drops everything to rush to the hospital, but discovers his beloved brother has died before he got there. He drives to the local school, to break the news to his nephew, Patrick. Lee takes on the duties of arranging the undertaker, and looking after Patrick. Overnight, his life and circumstances change completely. But his grief is overwhelming, and he finds it difficult to relate to the teenager. We discover why he is so conflicted,during a dramatic flashback to events in his own recent past. I won’t disclose those, avoiding spoilers.
It is very much Affleck’s film. Despite excellent performances by the rest of the cast, even in the smallest role, Casey is rarely off screen, and his experiences, past and present, bind the whole story together. Although the film focuses on dealing with grief piled upon grief, it is never depressing. Some lighter moments lift the mood, and the flashbacks allow memories of happier times. Location filming and lots of natural lighting add authenticity, with nothing feeling glossy, or melodramatic. Affleck’s talent here is to put us into his place, to make us imagine how we would possibly ever cope with the tragedies that he has experienced. So, an intelligent film, one that makes you think.
And he deserved that Oscar.