The Awards hopefuls are coming in thick and fast this month, as they usually tend to do this time of year, and one film generating a lot of noise is Kenneth Lonergan's long overdue return to the director's chair: Manchester By The Sea.

Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan very rarely releases a film, however, when he does, it's always certainly something to be excited about. With both the heartbreaking Margaret and You Can Count On Me under his belt, this is a storyteller that knows how to deliver a gut-punch of emotion. And, stepping behind the camera for the first time since 2011, for his third time, that's exactly what his latest film does... hit you with a gut-punch of emotion and hit you hard. Manchester By The Sea is incredible. This is such a real and genuine film and one that is so utterly heartbreaking and devastating to watch. It's a testament to Lonergan, as both a writer and director, for having created such a film: so raw and beautiful and thoroughly powerful.
The premise follows Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a handyman in Boston that is irritable, antisocial and unlikable - despite everyone trying their best to like him. When he receives a call and finds out that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has passed away, he heads to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-sea, to prep for the funeral and take care of his brother's son, Lee's nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). In the midst of all of this, Lee finds out that Joe has named him Patrick's guardian and has to work out what's best for both their lives and whether this is something he wants to pursue. If dealing with all of that wasn't enough, returning home retriggers Lee's tragic past - involving his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) - and the reason for his hatred of life.

Not only is Manchester By The Sea beautifully written and directed but it's sharply edited together too. The film tells its story through the use of flashbacks, entrusting its audience with little tidbits of information here and there, all building up to a very emotional reveal halfway through the film, and the way in which it does this is so unique and brilliant. The way Lonergan tells the story of present-day Lee and past time Lee and blends them both together is superbly conceived. The narrative is so smart and remarkably executed, to the point where these storylines just kind of bleed into one another, and this adds to the nuance and emotion of each of them too - as certain reveals are made throughout the film. This is about as human a film as they come; so raw and real and grounded by its humanity and its characters and its dialogue. The writing is never idealistic nor contrived and feels so authentic and natural; these very much feel like they could be actual conversations, and Lonergan has crafted such a real environment, to the extent that we're so engrossed by it all, we forget we're watching a film.
However, as masterfully crafted as this film is from a technical, directorial standpoint, this is also a masterclass in acting as much as it is in storytelling. All of the performances are astounding and it's worth saying that our 3 main actors especially - Affleck, Williams, and Hedges - all deserve Awards buzz and nominations for their stellar work. The performances never feel Hollywood-ised or over-the-top; we come back to the keyword "real" here. These are such real, raw, vulnerable performances we're watching on-screen. Casey Affleck gives the best performance of his career here; he's so reserved and subdued here, completely disappearing into the role, and it's a performance to behold. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges match him blow for blow, giving such emotionally driven performances. Williams gives a very vulnerable, stunning performance here, whereas Hedges is also more subtle but just as impressive as the aforementioned stars. This a masterclass in acting, with 3 truly astonishingly impressive and subliminal performances to witness here; so good that we forget we're watching actors and rather believe what we're witnessing is real, because everyone just disappears into their roles.

Manchester By The Sea is Lonergan's Mona Lisa; it's a masterpiece, in every definition of the word - it's an example of masterful writing, masterful directing and masterful acting. The pacing is fairly slow and it's not an easy film to watch because of just how emotionally charged and powerful it is, but this all works in favour of the film and is a testament to just how magnificent it truly is. We genuinely feel like we're watching something so real and get so swept up and transfixed by it that Manchester By The Sea becomes one of those rare occasions where we never want a film to end. Despite having a 2 hour 17 minutes runtime, I could easily have sat and watched this for so much longer. It's utterly engrossing and we're captivated by these characters and this story and the beauty of it. It's surprisingly quite hilarious too. As I said earlier, Kenneth Lonergan knows how to deliver a gut-punch of emotion. This isn't even a gut-punch; this is a whirlwind of emotion - one that will make your heart break from crying as much as it makes your jaw hurt from smiling.

VERDICT:

Manchester By The Sea is one of those rare occasions where you're so swept up and transfixed by a film that you never want it to end.



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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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