Manchester by the Sea – Review by Jez Gibson

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 A strangely beautiful bridge over troubled waters…

Casey Affleck has to return to a place he put far behind him to pick up the pieces following his brother’s death.

Being awards season, ‘tis the season to be overwhelmed by films that are a treasure trove of adaptations of a book you may well have read, an actor or director showcasing their latest masterpiece, or simply a story or perspective on something new that seeks to enlighten and educate. 
Basically no superheroes or franchises are in sight.

Having already marvelled at A Monster Calls, we are back in the territory of pain and loss; in some ways even more so as we peel the layers off the onion of this story.

It is a beautifully shot, non-gimmicky, natural piece of filmmaking. The story and emotional journey you will be taken on are largely driven by the two main characters – Casey Affleck and his character’s nephew played by Lucas Hedges. We are onlookers as we learn of their past, present and potential future.

Affleck is the main “star” here, a master in understatement. The Oceans 11 films feel so long ago now for an actor who has largely sought out roles that are much more nuanced and beguiling. Having a renowned brother in Ben, Casey has is in fact become the better actor, although Ben has become an accomplished director too now. In fact it was Ben’s brilliant directorial debut Gone Baby Gone that first drew my attention to Casey’s considerable capabilities.

Lucas, in his first major role, is understated in a different way. Still a fledgling actor he gets the balance just right of playing a vulnerable youth who is coming to terms with his future as an adult. With natural and not too showy performances, neither are gunning for an award. Their director Kenneth Lonergan has been a writer in the main, and he gets the best out of them and the story, earning awards attention. The always excellent Michelle Williams is in a supporting role, and has an immediate impact on the story with the little screen time she has available.

This is a film that is driven by a well-developed story, compellingly told through it’s cast. This could have been a made for TV drama or TV movie, but is so much more. Although heavy on emotion, which will put some of you off, this is a highly watchable, deeply cathartic and rewarding experience.
8/10 Jez Gibson