Come on, Patty. I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry.
In Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan, who both wrote and directed this movie, delves into the dark character study of a man crippled by grief, guilt & fear. It’s an unflinching movie that refuses to give easy answers or, in some cases, any answers at all. The cast is nothing short of brilliant. Casey Affleck gives his finest performance yet as the troubled, emotionally closed main character, Lee, a man returning to his home town because of his brother’s death; the unfortunate things that drove him from town in the first place will eventually arise and no spoilers. It’s an incredibly minimal performance, but Casey has always been adept at communicating incredible emotion by doing very little and his performance is nothing short of heartbreaking and the way he almost always chooses the quieter way of playing a scene makes the larger moments of emotion even more powerful. Michelle Williams is nothing short of brilliant as Affleck’s ex-wife. Her final appearance in the film is one of the most anguished scenes in the film and the acting in that scene is almost unbearable. Lucas Hedges feels absolutely honest and real as Affleck’s grieving nephew. The entire ensemble is really good; Anya Baryshnikov and Heather Burns are particularly good as Hedge’s girlfriend & the girlfriend’s mother, respectively. Matthew Broderick kind of pulled me out of the movie, but I’ll allow that one false note in this otherwise wonderful film. One of the things that really distinguishes this film from others of this type is the dark sense of humor that courses through the film, particularly in the sarcastic, snappish interactions between Affleck & Hedges and I was shocked to find myself, particularly in the second half of the movie, laughing out loud over and over. The music is brilliant. Lonergan uses a lot of pre-existing classical music and it’s evocative, really powerful and always absolutely apropos. This film uses flashbacks in a particularly wonderful way, unfurling the story of Lee’s past after we think we already know it. There’s an astonishing scene of Lee in a lawyer’s office and as Lee gets more and more uncomfortable, we get flashes of the past, sometimes only seconds long and finally we melt into a longer flashback as the past floods back. The editing is amazing in that sequence and Affleck’s performance is a thing of beauty; he lets us see the struggle Lee is feeling as the past comes back to him. It’s one of the best flashback sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie, maybe the very best. The film really adds up to a really wrenching experience, deeply sorrowful, deeply suffering, deeply funny. The characters are treated just right; they don’t have journeys from A to B to C, but they flow like real people. And the film’s ending is beautiful, an acknowledgment that everything doesn’t neatly wrap itself up into a story of redemption, that sometimes the struggle isn’t as easy to overcome as Hollywood might have you believe. And yet, at the same time, it is a story of redemption, just a wiser, wearier redemption. Call that contradiction what it is: life. 4 stars.
tl;dr – deeply moving story of tragedy is elevated by excellence in every department: script, score, direction, acting; a messy realism and a raw emotionalism prevail; a masterpiece. 4 stars.