Manchester by the Sea is a powerful, emotional story of loss, grief, pain and family. When Lee (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown after his brother’s death, he takes care of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and helps make arrangements. Lee is a loner, doesn’t care to interact with anyone and seems to just not care about anything. We think that he could deal with his brother’s death and taking care of Patrick better. Worse, there seems to be whispers following Lee as he gets things done around town. Later, we understand that awful past Lee left in this town.
Meanwhile, Patrick is a busy young man. He’s a hothead on the hockey team, is in a band, has two girlfriends and wants to keep his father’s boat that is about to break down. While Lee is a loner, Patrick is always surrounded by friends. It’s when he’s alone, that Patrick breaks down. The scene with meat falling out of the freezer is a raw and intense moment that really earned Hedges his Oscar nomination.
The most intense moment of the film, I cannot bear to really discuss, much less spoil for any readers. I will say that I cried tears of terror and sorrow seeing what Lee had brought on himself. The heartbreaking idea and images in his revealed past are genuinely haunting. What happened in Lee’s past makes us realize that he is not just a jerk acting aloof, but rather he is full of self loathing and an unbearable amount of guilt. No wonder he won’t accept even the smallest bit of kindness.
Casey Affleck’s portrayal of Lee is astounding. When we first see Lee, he is palling around with Patrick, who is around age nine. Lee seems happy, light and carefree here. In the present, Lee is morose, disconnected and seems to suck all the air out of a room. With this role, Affleck seems to have mastered the pregnant pause, avoiding eye contact and makes uncomfortable silences an art form. While Lee doesn’t say much to his ex wife in a chance meeting, we understand everything with the way he moves and can’t let her finish. On the opposite side of the coin, Affleck can make Lee lash out in an instant, like a furious explosion, usually after a few too many beers and on whoever looks at him wrong from across the bar.
Manchester by the Sea is nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and original screenplay. Kenneth Lonergan earned his first nomination for directing. Casey Affleck earned his second acting nomination, his first for lead actor. Young Lucas Hedges earned his first nomination for his supporting role. And Michelle Williams earned her fourth acting nomination for her small, but very powerful role as Lee’s ex wife.
To be perfectly honest, Manchester by the Sea may be a tough film for some to watch. It’s the kind of drama you need a box of tissues for, but not a box of chocolate. The story is raw, powerful and cuts deep into the subjects of loss, grief and guilt without the characters actually saying so much about it. The writing is a work of genius, the photography is simple, yet poignant and the acting is superb. It’s for real people, the hurt living, stuck between the ice and the fire. If you’re looking for a great modern drama that will shake you to your core, this is it.
“I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry.”