First Hit: A powerful and emotionally impactful story about learning how to care again.
This film tells a deeply moving story is about how tragedy changes the complexion of relationships and finding a way to move forward.
The backdrop is a small north east coastal town in Massachusetts called "Manchester by the Sea" or Manchester for short. As the film opens we find Lee and Joe Chandler (Casey Affleck and Kyle Chandler respectively) fishing with young Patrick Chandler (Ben O’Brian) who is Joe’s son. The tone of this scene is wonderful as Patrick is playfully being asked who is a better all-around man, his uncle Lee or his dad. Patrick of course answers “Dad”, and it is the close playfulness of this scene that sets the table for this story.
About ten years have passed and Lee is working as a maintenance man in residential buildings. He is living alone and in solitude, has a noticeable chip on his shoulder, and seems disengaged from life. He gets a call and must return to Manchester because his brother Joe is dying.
He’s met at the hospital by lifelong friend George (C.J. Wilson) and discovers that Joe has already passed. Clearly sad, he and George speak about whom to contact and what needs to be done. Speaking in matter of fact tones, his pain and sadness is being buried within.
During the reading of the will, he’s informed that he has been appointed guardian for, the now 16-year-old, Patrick (Lucas Hedges – older Patrick). The audience feels his resistance. What is obvious is that the resistance is not because of Patrick but because he must move back to Manchester. But why?
It is here that the film begins to unfold letting the audience into the story as to why Lee is so unhappy and sad and why he left Manchester for the life of a loner.
Each scene is shot with exquisite taste while parceling out just a little bit more of the deeply rooted angst carried by Lee. We get scenes of his happier days with his buddies. We get a glimpse of his previous marriage to Randi (Michelle Williams), and his children. We get a scene expressing his deep self-hatred in police station. We see the depth of his caring for Patrick and friend George. We have an amazing scene with Randi and see the difficulty he has in forgiving himself.
Not only was the dialogue in these scenes amazing, the feel of the community and each scene was extremely well shot with impeccable backdrops and sets like the downstairs where the guys were playing ping-pong - guy fun. The coziness of Patrick’s home - filled with family intimacy. The neighborhoods and town center of Manchester, the docks and bay, and the bar scenes were wonderfully real, gritty and engaging.
Affleck was sublime. His portrayal of this character was incredible, and wonderfully delivered. He will get an award nomination for this performance. Williams in her brief and powerful scenes was extraordinarily amazing. The scene with Affleck on the street haunts me days after seeing the film. She will probably receive a supporting award nomination for this role. Hedges shows a nice range from angst, to joy, to smart-alecky, to kindly thoughtful in this role. Wilson is very good and delivers a wonderful performance as a lifelong friend of Lee. The scene of him on the boat with Patrick and Lee explaining why he cannot be Patrick's guardian is spot on perfect. Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed this amazing film and although the actors were amazingly great, his vision and the delivery of this vision will earn him an award nomination. This was a very finely crafted film.
Overall: The screenplay, direction, and acting in this deeply moving film was exquisite.