There’s a scene in Manchester By The Sea that captures the movie in a melancholic but wonderfully amusing microcosm. After receiving some life-changing news, Patrick Chandler (Lucas Hedges) finds solace in the Star Trek related squabbles of his two friends – brothers bickering over the sci-fi shows importance that he observes and laughs about.
Layered with a Boston twang, it might get any Good Will Hunting fan reminiscing over the Affleck brothers arguing over a burger resting on a dashboard back in 1997, the younger of that pair now some 20 years older and stood observing this debate detailing the Enterprise crew’s importance. It seems almost serendipitous that he’s present; stood watching these young lads and their argument as part of a performance that seems almost light years ahead of the fresh-faced talent he started out as, and the undeniably superb actor he’s now become in Kenneth Lonergan’s new film.
Deserving every bit of award-related chit-chat he’s receiving of late, Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a quiet and cold apartment janitor, who after learning of his brother’s (Kyle Chandler) death, is forced to return home and as a result, the past he can’t escape. From the get-go we learn he wasn’t always like this, as Lonergan flits back and forth between the past and present, displaying a happily married man who was, and a detached and emotionally distant soul that is. Slowly the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Lee begins to show itself, as he tries to deal with the unfortunate circumstances that have befallen him, and attempts to rebuild a broken bridge between himself and his estrange nephew (Hedges) he’s lost touch with.
Without question, Manchester By The Sea is the overdue performance Affleck has been waiting for. Tunnelling to an emotional depth you’ve rarely seen him venture to, it’s undeniably the best work he’s ever done. From beginning to end Lee goes through an a journey of torment and a skewed route of redemption that bears a weight Affleck has no trouble in carrying. The strain is there, sure, but one person there to help carry it is the surprisingly amazing talent that is Lucas Hedges.
Sharing the brunt of the emotional baggage as much as his on-screen uncle, Hedges’ Patrick is a young man with a black and white view of the world, dealing with the loss of his father in his own way that really shows talent. The two work effortlessly together, as a young man who has it all planned out and a guardian years ahead of him that knows more than anyone, why that sometimes just can’t be.
For many it may be too much to handle, too much darkness in an already grey and dismal place that Affleck makes crystal clear his character wants no part of, but it’s through this that the film shows just how much it has to offer. As great as our leading men are, stranded at the shores of their horrible situation, one other soul stood with them is Michelle Williams, casting an equally impactful and genuinely tear-jerking display as Lee’s ex-wife, who shows remorse for Lee and her own self-regret of things she can’t take back and bonds that she can’t rebuild.
This is the ongoing lesson that Lenorgan teaches with poignancy and beauty; learning to accept the things we cannot change, but making amends (however small the feat) any way we can. It’s an acting masterclass all-round and one that the Oscars should be throwing awards at come February. La La Land can have it’s cheery glitz and glam, as it’s Manchester By The Sea that delivers something gripping, emotional and heart-achingly poetic – and sometimes that’s just what we need.