The latest film by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan is the 2016 drama Manchester by the Sea starring Casey Affleck in the lead role. It was actually produced by, in part, actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski.
Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a Boston based maintenance man who is informed that his elder brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away from a cardiac arrest, having suffered for a number of years with a congenital heart problem.
As he begins to make arrangements for his brother’s funeral, Lee finds the he has been made a legal guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Joe’s teenage son. As the film progresses we see Lee dealing with not only the reality of the guardianship of Patrick, but facing the town where so much of his and his family’s history lies.
Casey Affleck’s performance throughout the film is remarkable. It is an exercise in emotional complexity and the more that I learned about the background of his character, the better than his performance from the very start of the film is. He operates through the film with a level of withdrawal through, with a character consistently backing away from connection from others. It is a performance in absolute emotional precision.
The other standout performance is that of Michelle Williams. Whilst she only has a limited role in the film, her scenes are incredible and she delivers the most moving moment of the film.
The direction by Kenneth Lonergan is beautiful. It might sound odd but through the film, the director finds time in so many moments to bring the scenery to the screen, and to find moments of dialogue that seem unusual moments (for example, hanging on a moment where a husband and wife are struggling to hear each other over a crowd) that aren’t necaserily comic but find moments of realistic lightness.
It manages to capture moments like the above through the film that sum up moments of awkwardness that you can feel after someone has passed away about what is appropriate (for example – discussing the merits of Star Trek or not) and there is a really natural film to scene after scene because of this.
I found the score powerful as well with so many moments without any score, and then powerful bursts of music at other times, most memorably the use of Adadgio in G Minor during a scene.
The film is powerful, moving and thought provoking, and Affleck’s (and Williams’) performances, combined with cinematography of the film and the direction of Lonergan, make this a very special film.