Manchester by the Sea focuses on Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father suddenly dies, and must come to terms his past upon returning to his hometown. This plot and the marketing for the film make it seem very simple and somewhat familiar, but this movie is actually one of the most complex, heartbreaking, and exceptional films to be released in the last few years. I’ve seen performances in which actors feel like people instead of actors, but it’s hard to think of another time when a film doesn’t feel like it’s a film, because of how realistic the experience is. Every line and scene feels very authentic and almost like it wasn’t even written. The performances are also terrific, without a doubt. The hype for Casey Affleck’s performance, including a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination, is well deserved, as he delivers the most affecting performance I’ve seen this year. He doesn’t deliver a big scene that you can tell will be screened at the Oscars when his name is read, but the melancholy and soul he fills his character with is so real and moving that you go from hating Lee in the first minutes to empathizing with him by the end. Lucas Hedges delivers one of the greatest performances by a younger actor in recent years, and I felt so pulled into his role that I barely felt like he was acting, either. Michelle Williams is also exquisite and heart-wrenching as Lee’s ex-wife, who only has a few scenes but none of which aren’t memorable.
What audiences are sure to remember the most after seeing Manchester by the Sea is its gut-punching emotion, as a large portion of the film is very depressing and tough to experience. The emotional connection established between the audience and the main character is so strong that some events in the film feel much more effective and powerful than they would if the writing was any less spectacular than it was. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan makes us not only care about the characters but he goes as far as making us experience these events with them. Whenever something out-of-the-ordinary happened, something as small as the shatter of a glass, the reaction the audience in my theater had, as well as myself, was much stronger than it would be in films such as blockbusters, because we were made to feel like we were going through these events as well. One thing that surprised me is that, even in all the sadness that’s being thrown at you, Lonergan was able to sneak in a few moments of great humor, and it’s not there to distract or turn the story upside down. The themes the movie will leave you thinking about can be connected to by everyone, as the film focuses on the strength of family, brotherhood, and parenthood. Manchester by the Sea is a riveting achievement that is able to leave a huge impact on you after watching it, even without beautiful cinematography and visuals like others among the year’s best films such as La La Land and Arrival. It has an authentic sense of humanity rather than of a film, and the performances are by far the best of the year. This movie is guaranteed to break your heart and impact you unlike many films this decade, as it’s a mature, brilliant, and flawless experience that must be viewed before this year’s Oscars.