Manchester By The Sea is one of several films that comes out at this time in the UK, which is typically reserved for un-polished rubbish, like last week’s review of Assassins Creed or typical films that are typical awards contenders. Manchester By The Sea is no exception to the rule, there has been a lot of buzz about this film as it played in the film festival circuit last year and it opened in America to almost overwhelmingly good reviews across the board. It pulled off further success by receiving several Golden Globe nominations, 1 of which it won and last week it was nominated for several BAFTA’s, including Best Film and it looks set to also receive an Oscar nomination in that category in a couple of days. That being said, I wasn’t actually looking forward to seeing it, it’s nothing against writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, he has done some good stuff in the past including the screenplay for Gangs of New York as he also co-wrote and directed Margaret and You Can Count on Me. Though, his IMDB page is very sparse, he doesn’t tend to write and direct many features, in fact he hasn’t done any major studio work, with the exception of the screenplay for The Adventures of Rocky and the Bullwinkle, which we all know how that turned out! Now the real reason I wasn’t looking forward to this one is, it looked like it was an Oscar pandering film, something I will be going in to more detail about when I release my picks for the Oscar’s this year, which will be coming out a lot later in 2016 due to the late release of Moonlight which will also more than likely receive a nomination for Best Picture. Bear in mind, I don’t mind Oscar baiting films to be fair, some of them have been excellent and I have really enjoyed them, even if they have been clearly aiming for Oscar’s, but it is getting so tiring, when I see a ton of films I really enjoyed that will likely get nothing around this time. If you quickly look back on my Top Ten Best of the Year, you will see that I put a film called Eye in The Sky, in fact it was a number 5, and while I wasn’t expecting it to get any Oscar nominations, I at least expected it to get some BAFTA nominations, but because it didn’t fit the mould in that sort of market, it didn’t receive any nominations, it should have received at least a potential Screenplay nomination and I thought it would get one for Outstanding British Film, nevertheless, it’s the main reason why I have decided that for my next Oscar Pick’s list I am also going to be placing which films I think missed out in each category. That’s enough of me bitching about the Oscars. Is Manchester By The Sea a decent film or has this just been made to get Casey Affleck an Oscar?
Manchester By The Sea is the story of Lee Chandler (played by Casey Affleck). One day he gets a call at work and is told that his brother has died. He leaves Boston to return to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts to sort out his estate and his Nephew’s living expenses, only to discover that unbeknownst to him, his brother named him as his son’s legal guardian. His nephew, Patrick (played by Lucas Hedges) seems to take it in various strides, but it is very clear that the two of them are suffering and grieving in their own way and Lee does not like being back in his hometown, as it brings back some demons from his past.
Manchester By The Sea is a very interesting film because on the one hand, it’s very much a film that you can feel will be an awards contender, yet, unlike many films like this, it starts out feeling incredibly organic. I’m not joking when I say that I think that Manchester By The Sea handles this first half excellently. The film feels like it is an engaging look into grief and almost feels like a procedural drama for a recent and unexpected death. The writing is extremely superb in these moments and as a result, the characters feel real, the whole thing feels like it’s an exercise in acting and it is all completely to the film’s benefit. The film also gives some excellent character development in this time, Lee starts out with a cold exterior, but he is actually given a well rounded reason for why he is that way and an excellent back story, I felt they handled his back story incredibly well and as a result, the whole thing feels like some real effort is put in here. I wish I could leave it all here and just say that Manchester By The Sea is really excellent and all the good points stay throughout the film, the great back and forth between Patrick and Lee, the return of Patrick’s mother on the scene, Lee seeing his ex-wife again, and all sorts of other great moments, however, I can’t, because I felt the film was too long.
The biggest issue I have with Manchester By The Sea is its run time, the whole thing runs in at just over 2hr and 15mins and really, it has no reason to run that long. While I felt this was a really good ‘slice of life’ story and I think my enjoyment of this film kind of goes back to my enjoyment of ‘slice of life’ Anime, something that I felt was really echoed within this film. There were several moments that could have been cut. Some of these moments feel like they go on too long and I think some of them are a serious detriment to the film as, without going into spoilers, I feel it affects their character development in a way that is not entirely coherent and I think kind of messes with the films message overall. Granted, I do understand why the characters development went down this way and there’s nothing really wrong with it and in some sense it is kind of commendable that they went down a lot of these routes, but I also felt that there were a few things that weren’t quite working by the end of the film that it doesn’t quite fix. These are minor nit picks however, and I am not saying the second half is bad, it’s just not as strong as the first half and it needed a stronger second half to complement it. The only other major thing is that Kenneth Lonergan seems to have tapped into Christopher Nolan’s art of storytelling, where the time shifts back and forth, again, I don’t tend to have a problem with this, Christopher Nolan can actually make it work in films like Momento and Batman Begins and in fact Kenneth Lonergan using this method kind of makes it work in the first half of the film. When it turns up in the second half, however, it’s again to the film’s detriment because it feels like the film is dragging its heels along. The film is an excellent character piece, that’s where I think its greatest strength lies and it knows this and takes advantage of it which makes me question why the film is called Manchester By The Sea, considering the town itself doesn’t exactly play a part in the film as a whole. But in all honesty, if these are my only complaints, then frankly you have done pretty well. It does feel like a lot of effort has been put into it and a lot of money has been put behind the project, unsurprising, considering it’s an Amazon Studio’s production, who are known for putting a lot of their budget behind projects they believe in and it shows because the film actually looks and feels like a really great story, it just can’t quite maintain it to the finish line, it still crosses the finish line and has a good time, but it’s also developed a minor injury in the process and I think that analogy got a bit out of hand.
Manchester By The Sea’s cast is very big and very talented and the whole thing does feel like a really cool acting piece. You have excellent performances across the board. Lucas Hedges gives an excellent performance and I wouldn’t object to him receiving a nomination for Best Supporting Actor on the back of it. Other performances are excellent, including Tom Kemp in an excellent role. Michelle Williams has already received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes, which she lost and I suspect she will receive the same nomination at the Oscars, however, I would not object to her receiving a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, she actually does fine, even though I think there are several other performances that would warrant it more, like Helen Mirren in Eye In The Sky for example. However, I would seriously object to her being nominated for Best Actress in a leading role, she simply doesn’t contribute enough to the film despite what the advertising campaign has made out and I’m sorry, she doesn’t do as good a job as the rest of the cast. She is giving a great performance, for the most part, but it also feels slightly forced and out of all the cast members she feels like the one who is most gunning for the award. The standout performance, by far, is Casey Affleck. He has already received nominations in the Best Leading Actor category, and it is well deserved, he does a fantastic performance in this film, portraying a wide range of emotions and going through each and every one of them brilliantly, his chemistry with Lucas Hedges is fantastic and the back and forth is also excellent. The film is worth it for his performance alone. I haven’t gone into great detail about the cast but really, there are some excellent performances and none of the cast really took me out of the film, with the exception of the brief performance of Matthew Broderick, in the role of Patrick’s mothers new husband and frankly I think he only took this role to prove to people that he is still alive.
There’s not really much to talk about with the presentation of this film, the only thing I can really talk about it its cinematography, which I actually felt was pretty dam good all things considered and I really, really, really liked the aesthetic of the film as a whole. This is not surprising because, as I previously mentioned, it’s an Amazon Studios production and most of their productions tend to have excellent cinematography as proved by anyone who has seen Mr Robot or The Man In The High Castle and even in factual programmes like The Grand Tour. In fact the cinematography is so good I wouldn’t be surprised if it received a nomination for Best Cinematography at the Oscars.
There’s not much more to say about Manchester By The Sea, it’s a very good film for the most part. It suffers from a little too long running time and as a result suffers towards the end with the whole thing not quite working as a whole. I will say, though, it is an excellent ‘slice of life’ story and an excellent character story about grief and accepting responsibility. It’s not a perfect film by any means, in fact it’s actually flawed in parts, but nothing that will distract or take you out of this film. I actually thought this film was pretty dam good and I suspect it will do well in a few days time when the Oscar nominations are announced, and I will not object to it as I did enjoy this film. At the minute it it’s to go down the route of the BAFTA nominations it won’t be my pick for Best Picture, that would still be Arrival, but any other year I could possibly see myself picking this one and that is mainly down to the excellent performances especially the central performance from Casey Affleck.
I recommend you see this. It is one of the few films made like this that doesn’t feel like a bit emotional gut punch. It knocks you down but it does kind of pick you back up.
Well that’s it for me this week. I was entering this week with trepidation, I am going into next week feeling, why does this film exist.
Thank you for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and judging by this film, maybe the Oscars this year won’t suck as much as I thought they were going to.
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