Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown following the death of his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler). In addition to coordinating his brother’s delayed disposition and experiencing the shock of returning to town as The Lee Chandler (the once-promising and now-estranged former boy-who-could), he learns that Joe expressly requested in his will that he become his son, Patrick’s (Lucas Hedges), formal guardian. Following intense confusion, hesitancy, and a required relocation, Lee obliges and assumes responsibility for Patrick’s welfare.
Unfolding in a sometimes-confusing non-linear style, the film features flashbacks that require a focused, discerning viewer. By the end of the film it all comes together, but along the way the audience is forced to sit in the grey (like the characters) as things come into focus. The Lee Chandler has a reason for being The Lee Chandler, yet the audience is kept in the dark until about halfway through the film; prior to the revelation (unfolding in a symphonic, crescendo-like manner), the character’s hinting subtleties are brilliantly portrayed by Affleck. It’s tragic, and creates a sympathetic portrait of a man seemingly scarred for life and unable (not unwilling) to rebound or recreate a life of wholeness and healing. “What does he have to offer a young man ready to launch his adult life?” is the million-dollar-question.
Accompanied by an unorthodox, classically-styled score, the film seems at once comfortingly familiar yet remarkably fresh; the credit must go to Lonergan as well as the film’s editor, for the film unfolds at a pace that closely approaches a test of will yet never crosses the line into boredom or tediousness. Every frame has a purpose and serves to reinforce a somber story of the resiliency of several unfortunate people whose lives have previously unraveled with unexpected fury.
While the film has received Oscar buzz for its many admittedly-worthy performances, it is that of Lucas Hedges that stands out the most. He has the fortune of embodying the film’s symbol of young, child-like hope and is given many of the film’s most comedic lines; this is a “dramedy”, after all. His “player status” and jumbling of many concurrent relationships is particularly humorous and draws a rare smile from Lee.
But one should not discount the performances of Affleck and Michelle Williams, who are at their career-bests after a chance encounter late in the film after having parted years earlier. It’s literally breathtaking, heartbreaking, and feels effortless. It so perfectly captures the conflicting compassion and haunting pain that can follow people for years, even a lifetime, following personal trauma.
It remains to be seen if the film will, indeed, be present in the Oscar discussion next year, but one thing is for certain: it deserves to be there.
Manchester By The Sea is screening at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in the non-competitive Premieres category and was acquired by Amazon for $10 million for a planned 2016 release.
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Image Source: Sundance Institute