2017.76: Manchester By the Sea (2016)
If nothing else, this film had me thinking of beginnings and endings, and how film-makers and writers decide what constitutes a beginning, and what an ending. In any story, it’s all very arbitrary- the real beginning for anyone’s story is their birth, and the end is their death, and usually what a story is, is some bubble of time between. We witness such a bubble, or fragment of someone’s life, in Manchester by the Sea, in which that person is a tortured soul full of self-loathing and regret and anger. We don’t initially understand why, and this is deliberate- we are coming into this story almost at its end, really. Flashbacks dotted through the film offer tantalising hints until a horrifying reveal unfolds the truth before us. It’s one of those films where the sudden dawn of realization is almost like a physical punch. Maybe others see it coming, but for me this was one film that didn’t telegraph things ahead as some do. I thought it was a very effective drama.
And does any other actor do quiet, seething anger quite like Casey Affleck? It’s a remarkable performance that is, typically of Affleck, so understated, so quiet and devoid of the scene-chewing hysterics that many actors would bring to it. But that’s the film, too, really- surprisingly quiet and understated, a gentle study in melancholy and the cruelness of life and the world we are sometime lost in and destroyed by.
Not a perfect Christmas movie by a long shot, Manchester by the Sea is nonetheless something rather special. So special that I’ve been careful to avoid plot details or spoilers, even for film as ‘old’ as this when most people reading this will likely have already seen the film. It’s that kind of film- an experience best unspoiled.