A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.
Manchester by the Sea is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs of New York), whose hard work shows in how deep he is willing to dive into the darkest corners of everyone we meet throughout his record of memories. The lonely, depressed, recently divorced plumber we are invited to connect with has a lot coming at him; having lost his brother to cardiac arrest, and now left to be the only one left to take in custody of his now fatherless nephew.
From watching the heartbreaking flashbacks that depict the uncertainty of the plumber's path, to the humbling, somber performance by Casey Affleck (no tears necessary), all audiences suited for the well- earned R-rating will be greatly moved by its rough depiction of an everyday story within an everyday life.
What makes the chilling power of this deceptively simple story so powerful is the consistently cold feel that Lonergan maintains from start to finish. Being set in the northeast, snow appears all over to reflect the plumber's state of mind, and the cold is felt all the greater depending on the amount of stress tugging between him and his blood relatives. The screen's empty starkness takes its time to linger on the quietest of moments, screaming the loudest of internal noises without saying a word.
Manchester by the Sea could have easily taken place anywhere in the world, not necessarily in one particular small town in one particular part of the nation. What makes the Boston-Manchester setting work to its advantage is its subtle handling of the culture, right down to the look, feel, and taste of the area. The much-needed emphasis on father and son bonding through the quietness of fishing bookends the film with the one single image that defines everything valued by the people who live there. Also similar to last year's big Oscar-winner Spotlight, there is a clear presence of Catholicism guiding the lives of all Bostonians, whether or not they consider themselves religious. They claim that all Catholics are Christian, which is not entirely true, nor is it said so in the feature, but it works to the advantage of making the sense of hope they seek after touch much closer to home.
There are plenty of independent features out there that tackle the discomforting subject of family death and custody, but none of them handle it with the same level of detail, humanity, and personal application as Manchester by the Sea. It's not the feel-good holiday treat you may be looking for at this time of the year, but considering how family and tragedy essentially go hand-in-hand, Lonergan's scholarly study on the personal crisis will help countless others in what to do about a similar trauma.
Hence, I encourage all to see this masterful, humbling work when they get the chance to, but not just with anyone, with the relatives they are the closest to. That way, you can walk out of the theater together sharing the tears of your worst and best memories. If more movies had the power to do that, then Hollywood would at last be restored to its former glory.
- Dec 2, 2016