Throughout his career, Casey Affleck has always remained one of my favorite underrated actors. Even with big brother Ben taking most of the spotlight, Casey has built a solid career that includes dozens of fantastic performances. From Gone Baby Gone to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he has always given dynamic performances onscreen.
It appears that Casey is finally getting the attention he deserves, already being accredited as the Oscar Best Actor frontrunner for his latest film Manchester by the Sea. The film follows Lee Chandler, who is forced to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick after his brother’s death.
Already being written in as one of the year’s top Awards Season contenders, Manchester by the Sea does not disappoint. Immersive in its authenticity and potent in its subdued emotion, its one of the year’s best films to hit theaters.
Performance-wise, few can top the effort that star Casey Affleck gives. Unlike a lot of performances that are highlighted during Awards Season, this is a very understated effort by Affleck. Playing a character crippled by his grief and alcoholism, he shows this pain in a very realistic and honest way. At the same time, the character despite his many flaws is likable enough to root for throughout.
Surrounding Affleck is a supporting cast that is on-par with his performance. Michelle Williams is only in the film for six minutes, but she absolutely makes those minutes count with some heartbreaking scenes. Her notable scene here is perhaps the film’s best, with all the emotion of the two characters coming to a full boil in an honest way. Lucas Hedges has the tall task of going toe to toe with Affleck as his nephew, but is charming and wise-cracking throughout. Kyle Chandler and C.J. Wilson are also quite good in their roles.
Much of the credit for this film goes to writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. Lonergan’s previous two films (You Can Count on Me and Margaret) were promising, yet imperfect. This is his first truly great effort doing double duty. He does a great job of establishing a sense of place. Taking place in a small New England town, every detail such as the rigid winter landscapes to the jargon of the people is accurate.
This movie is an interesting watch because it has a very simplistic story, but that works in its favor. Manchester by the Sea moves at a patient pace, giving its audience a lot of downtime to understand the complexities of its characters. There is a very effective use of flashbacks to reveal some key plot points and give audiences an understanding of why the characters are the way they are. Every character, no matter how little screen time they have, is well established and has a fair share of complexities.
The authenticity here is quite impressive, and its what makes the film so emotionally resonant. The film never has the grandiose emotional scenes that a lot of dramas have, but the small understated moments can be heartbreaking. While there is a lot of sadness here, its not an outright depressing film, packing enough humanity and humor to give a sense of optimism.
Manchester by the Sea is as life-like as it gets for film, with honest performances and an authentic emotional core making this among the year’s best.