Some great movies you want to watch over and over again, committing every scene and line to memory. Others, such as the new drama Manchester by the Sea, dig so deep into your soul that you’d find it difficult ever watching it again, no matter how stunning it is.
In the film, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a handyman in Boston, finds out that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died from congestive heart failure. Lee returns to their hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, to claim Joe’s body and to take care of Joe’s son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Lee’s reaction to Joe’s death, and to pretty much anything else, is nearly emotionless. But it’s plain to see that something is simmering beneath the surface, and through a series of flashbacks, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan lets us in on what transpired in Lee’s past that made him such a hard man. To say that the revelations are devastating is to put it extremely mildly.
If you say you don’t want to spend over two hours in a movie theater being emotionally bludgeoned, I can’t say that I blame you. But in this case, you’d be missing a story that is so boldly honest, you can’t take your eyes of it for a second. There’s nothing flashy about it, but the simple truth of what is being shown is mesmerizing nonetheless.
Lee is full of contradictions, a stoic man who has a lot of rage, a family man who sometimes acts against his family’s best interests. That makes him extremely human, and the layers of his personality that emerge over the course of the film still only seem to hint at exactly who he is.
Affleck has had some good parts in the past, even earning one Oscar nomination, but he’s still seemed to always be “Ben Affleck’s brother.” This role should once and for all cement him as his brother’s equal or more. Despite Lee remaining stone-faced for much of the film, or more likely because of it, Affleck delivers his best performance to date.
A stellar cast that includes Chandler, Hedges, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, and C.J. Wilson backs Affleck up. Each of them brings more depth to the film, enriching each character’s story in ways that most films only dream of.
There is nothing easy about watching Manchester by the Sea, but it’s not a film that you have to endure, either. Instead, it’s a masterful story filled with amazing actors, told with nuanced precision by a phenomenal filmmaker.
Manchester by the Sea is playing now at Magnolia Theatre in Dallas and Angelika Film Center in Plano.