“I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry…”

Casey Affleck has spent most of his career in the shadow of his big brother, Ben. He never quite reached the level of notoriety nor the success of the now revered director. While Ben’s talents behind the camera are clear, I’ve always regarded Casey as the more talented actor of the two.

With Manchester By The Sea, however, the serial supporting character actor is taking a turn as the leading man. Serving under playwright-come-director Kenneth Lonergan, Affleck has already picked up a Golden Globe for his performance and is the bookie’s favourite for the Oscar. Could 2017 be the year Casey Affleck becomes more than just Ben’s little brother?

The Plot

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handy-man in Boston, carving out a living in what appears to be self inflicted exile. When his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies, he is called back to his home town of Manchester; a place where he is not only Lee Chandler, he is THE Lee Chandler.

Suddenly struck the task of raising his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee is adamant that he isn’t a capable guardian. With both men dealing with their grief in surprisingly pragmatic fashion, a loss so unbearable bubbles just beneath the surface. Cue tears.

Review

This is Casey Affleck’s best performance, bar none. Ever the capable dramatic actor in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, this is Affleck’s star turn that will define his career. Every micro-expression tells a story in his extremely disciplined performance as Lee; his numb stoicism is matched completely by the avalanche of pain that he is trying to hold back.

Manchester By The Sea is a showcase of Affleck’s terrific range. The mystery of his character is unfolded through flashbacks that show him at his highest points and his most crushing lows. What could be a very unlikable character is layered through these carefully timed flashback scenes and his cold exterior melts. If Affleck doesn’t win Best Actor at this year’s Oscars then I’ll eat my hat.

Lucas Hedges is a revelation as Patrick and his Oscar nomination is sure to propel him towards a long and prosperous career. His expletive-laden charm is reminiscent of Matt Damon’s in Good Will Hunting and he acts as the perfect counterpoint to Affleck. Yet his own brand of masculine coping crumbles in a truly incredible scene that blends tragedy with honest sincerity.

It is this sincerity elevates Manchester By The Sea from other well acted films about grief. There is an undertone of comedy that permeates throughout the film. Whether it’s the realistic back-and-forth between Affleck and Hedges or the Affleck’s dead-pan expression in the face of increasing exasperation. Without it, this would be a very difficult film to watch, given the inherent sadness of the story.

Lonergan is to be praised for how seamlessly he blends the the comic with the tragic. This is a finely tuned and masterful story that never falls into the trappings of melodrama. There is an all too brutal honesty about the portrayal of grief; tears don’t need to fall every scene for the tragedy to be felt by the audience. Here, Lonergan proves that less is most certainly more.

It’s difficult to break Manchester By The Sea down into a traditional three act structure. Lonergan presents the story with a slow progression that reflects the mundanity every day life, which only elevates the realism of the film. The icy conditions of Manchester transcends the screen and leaves the audience feeling the cold; a clever visual metaphor of Lee’s own lack of paternal warmth.

The only real fault to be found here is the film’s use of its score. It is unimaginatively deployed and often overstated within moments without dialogue. There is an over reliance on a classical sweeping score in moments of high emotion where silence may have been more effective. However this is only a minor criticism of an otherwise stellar film.

The Verdict

Manchester By The Sea seems destined for Oscar glory because it is so understated and emotionally raw. Oscar worthy performances from the whole cast make this an acting masterclass. Heart wrenching and surprisingly soulful, Lonergan is able to transcend the drama and take his film into a raw reality.

Big brother Ben may have to look over his shoulder, because Casey Affleck is about to become a household name. That golden statue almost certainly awaits.

Manchester By The Sea
4.5Moving
Plot Structure
Performances
Direction
Music