A poignant, affecting & gut-wrenching drama about the voids that never fill & the scars that never heal, Manchester by the Sea is an honest depiction of loss, grief & trauma that’s handled with care, told with patience & brought to life with sincerity and is further uplifted by evocative performances from its committed cast, especially Casey Affleck who is an absolute revelation in his given role.
The story of Manchester by the Sea takes place in the titular town and follows a quiet, reserved & estranged man whose life takes a drastic turn after he receives the ill news of his brother’s death. Obliged to return to the place that harbours a past trauma, things get even more complicated for him when he finds out that he’s supposed to be his nephew’s guardian and struggles with the new responsibility.
Written & directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea is my first stint with his works and it is, by every means, one heavy stuff that’s dense with emotions. His direction exhibits remarkable restraint as Lonergan allows the plot & characters to breathe & unfold at their own pace. The story is character-driven and relies on their emotions to articulate the context of the given scene but it is exquisitely portrayed.
Another highlight is the care & attention given to its characters, for nearly everyone is embedded with meaty arcs & believable personas plus their course of action maintains a close proximity with real life behaviour. Lonergan understands that everyone grieves in their own ways and illustrates it with precision. And the slow reveal of the magnitude of the event that haunts our protagonist is bound to shatter its audience.
The technical aspects are aptly executed & extremely grounded and never tries to overshadow or take the focus away from its characters. The slow-burn narration is fitting, given its premise, but it will still frustrate a few viewers with its stillness & silent ruminations. Camerawork is mostly static, Editing is a mixed bag, for its plot could’ve been leaner & a bit better paced, while its background score has a muted presence.
Coming to the acting department, Manchester by the Sea features a reliable cast in Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler & C.J. Wilson, with Affleck impressing the most in what’s undeniably his career-best performance. Hedges plays his part brilliantly. Williams doesn’t get enough screen time but there is one moment where she & Affleck single-handedly elevate the entire picture to a whole new level with their jaw-dropping act.
On an overall scale, Manchester by the Sea is an emotionally scarring & profoundly upsetting film that is capable of tearing your soul apart with its authentic portrait of guilt, trauma & inner conflict. Powerfully moving at times, retaining the human aspect throughout, and culminating on a bittersweet note, this sad, tragic, painful, haunting & heartbreaking tale of a wrecked, tortured, wounded & devastated man’s life isn’t an easy sit but for those who can patiently connect with it, it may turn out to be a cinematic experience that’s as rewarding as it is humbling.