Review: Manchester by The Sea

Hayden McLaughlin, Contributor

Manchester by the Sea is a 2016 film starring Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges as lead actors. The film won  Academy Awards including Best Actor in a Leading Role won by Casey Affleck and an Academy Award for writing which was given to writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. 

Lee Chandler becomes the legal guardian of his nephew, Patrick Chandler, after Lee’s cousin Joe passes away. Lee is forced to return to Manchester by the Sea to watch over Patrick while also facing the terror of his former life in town including his ex-wife Randi and the untimely death of his children. Patrick attempts to navigate life without his father and tries to reconnect with his mother.

 Although set in Manchester by the Sea, a quaint Massachusetts coast town, much of the filming occurred in Gloucester, Essex, and Swampscott. The film is set in the winter evidenced by the snow-covered grounds and frigid temperatures. The film has a brooding tone, but the background colors are often light, and pleasant.

Affleck gives the performance of a lifetime. He portrays Lee as a man with no emotions on the surface, but a crippling level of guilt on the inside. His co-star, Lucas Hedges provides a unique take on grieving the death of a family member. Most importantly though, is leading actress, Michelle Williams and her take on Randi. Every five-star movie has a quintessential scene that catapults it from good to elite, and that is the first confrontation between Randi and Lee after he arrives in Manchester by the Sea.

The score was crafted by Lesley Barber, and the haunting opera-style solos ring out over the Atlantic Ocean on cold winter days. Even though the vocals say very little they tell the audience everything they need to know about Lee’s life. Movie score critic Jonothan Broxton described the music as being, “intended to be a reflection of Casey Affleck’s character Lee, ruminating on the remains of his shattered life, hinting at the tragedies in his past, and commenting on his dour, stern persona.”

 This film deals primarily with grief and how it can be dealt with. Lee views the death of his family as his fault. He believes that repercussions should have come his way, but he is cleared of wrongdoing and even attempts to kill himself because he believes it to be the only way he can repay his debt to the world. After that point, he takes a much more jaded stance on life. 

Things happen and we move on. There is no reason for him to talk about these events because there is nothing that can be done to change them. This is evidenced by his meeting with Randi. She forgives him and begs him to talk about it with her, but he cannot bear to do it and ultimately leaves. Randi, too, is deeply affected by the loss, but she is still able to find hope in life. She gets remarried and has another child, putting her previous life behind her. Patrick, too, is struck by the death of his father; however, he seems to act like nothing has changed on the outside, still hanging out with his friends, and playing in his band. However, he does express his emotions occasionally in a panic attack late at night. 

In the end, this film is one that everyone should watch because of the gripping storytelling and realistic acting. Even if the slow burn style movies are not your style, Manchester by the Sea will change your mind.