4 stars
An early favourite for Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards, Manchester By The Sea was effectively beaten out by the likes of Moonlight and La La Land at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago.
Despite that, it remains firmly in the conversations for some of the top awards of the season, and if nothing else, Casey Affleck saw his Oscar hopes get a boost after taking home the Best Actor award at the Globes. Affleck is deserving, but his performance shouldn’t overshadow what a subtly brilliant movie this really was.

Manchester By The Sea explores the idea of how we cope with tragedy about as effectively as any film we’ve seen in a decade. It’s a uniquely human question, and in addressing it, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan avoided gimmicks and sensationalism entirely. As one critic at the Boston Globe put it, the film puts forth the kind of sadness that makes you feel more alive… to the preciousness of things. That phrase might be strange if you haven’t seen the movie yet, but once you have it’s a fairly flawless encapsulation.

Early in Manchester By The Sea we’re introduced to Lee Chandler (Affleck), a janitor working in Boston who seems more or less numb to the world. We watch him going about his routine before he receives a phone call and sets out for Manchester, Massachusetts. His brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has been hospitalised with complications stemming from congestive heart failure. However, by the time Lee arrives in Manchester Joe has passed away, leaving behind his teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a boat, and not much else. This is all setting up the bulk of the movie, during which Lee works to overcome his personal demons to step into Patrick’s life, both as uncle and interim guardian.

What’s really amazing throughout the film is that, as much as you sense the sadness and terror that both Lee and Patrick feel, there are moments of humour sprinkled in fairly regularly. On some level, the message is that no one knows what to do in these situations, and it’s always going to be messy, but the bonds of family can bring out the light in even the darkest of circumstances. Make no mistake, this is a dark movie. The more we learn about Lee’s past and why he has aversions to being back in his hometown and looking after his nephew, the more we realise that this is about more than a single death in the family. But Lonergan isn’t merely hitting us over the head with a sob story. There’s soul in his movie—in Affleck and Hedges, in the calming shots of frigid New England harbours, and in the frequent flashbacks to happier times before Joe passed away. It’s a beautiful composition.

What remains to be seen is how much it moves the Academy. Following the Golden Globes it’s fair to say that La La Land is the clear Best Picture favourite, and for anything else to win would probably represent the biggest upset since Argo in 2013. Back then everyone from film fans to oddsmakers at a page hosting a variety of betting markets, including non-sports events better known as 'specials' (like the Oscars), knew that for anything but Lincoln to win would be a long shot. Still, it was Ben Affleck and Argo that won the Academy’s biggest prize. For a second Affleck brother to triumph similarly might just be too unlikely, but don’t count this movie out simply because it didn’t perform as well as expected at the Globes. There’s an argument to be made that it was the best film of 2017.


Casey Affleck
Michelle Williams
Kyle Chandler
Lucas Hedges

Kenneth Lonergan

Kenneth Lonergan




137 minutes

February 2, 2017
Manchester by the Sea (2016) on IMDb
Stacks Image 21553
Stacks Image 21556