MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is the Casey Affleck movie you may have heard about. It’s up for a bunch of awards including best film at the Oscars. It is getting nothing but rapturous critical love. It is the movie people claim now makes Casey Affleck up with the cinema giants. Some critics also claim it is one of the best American dramas of all time. But what it doesn’t tell you is that it is one of the most depressing movies of recent times that tries to be so realistic by the end you may want to murder the lead character. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is out now from Universal Pictures Australia on limited release. It is rated MA15+ and runs for 137min. If you are experiencing suicidal tendencies steer clear of this one, nearly offed myself at the end.


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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is about Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and his family. We see Lee working as an introverted handyman who likes to keep to himself. He appears emotionless and with a life so internalised it is hard to read him. He receives a phone call, something about family and heads off back to his hometown – the in-real-life town “Manchester by the Sea.” The jumpy cut drive there is interspersed with multiple timelines as Lee flashes back to a past family death in Manchester by the Sea. These flashbacks woven into real time continue into the film until we get the large reveal about Lee’s past. A reveal that explains the way he is.

While Lee is in Manchester by the Sea he is asked to take over the custody of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee has some epic demons he must battle with if he is to let people back into his life and become a father-figure for his nephew.


Manchester by the Sea Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges image



MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is an incredibly gruelling movie to sit through. It is the equivalent to an emotional heart stomping. That being said it is a masterclass in acting and is a drama film near on perfect in the writing for about 90% of the movie.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen. It is also so shrouded in its need to represent a real-life situation minus Hollywoodism that, for me, it ruined the movie. It bashes the viewer over the head with constant and endless woe at Lee’s situation. Do not get me wrong, the movie is amazing, and Lee’s situation is one that no-one in life should be put in. However, at some point, one does not need to movie on, but they need to function and aim for a life.


While Lee’s situation is so overwhelming it doesn’t excuse the inability to see to the needs of a nephew that has just lost a father and is alone in the world. If anything should bring someone out of their own seven circles of hell, that is it. Lee’s actions in regards to his nephew had me done with him by the end of the movie. I detested the man that was so overcome with grief he let everyone down around him. But that was his point wasn’t it? He wanted a life of hell because nothing could make up for what happened. If he was a samurai this would have been a much easier movie. Instant seppuku and roll credits. As it was the ending of the movie led me to believe the purpose of the movie was little but encompassing self pity.


Manchester by the Sea Lucas Hedges image



That all being said MANCHESTER BY THE SEE is so well made it is a marvel of a dramatic movie. Its study of grief, self-loathing, families and forgiveness is something that will be studied in film schools.

Casey Affleck provides a masterclass in acting, but then he pretty much does this in every role he plays. It is so underplayed and so subtle it becomes the more powerful for it. I cannot imagine the emotional turmoil he put himself through to play this part.

Gorgeous red-head Lucas Hedges nails it as the elder Patrick in the story. The chemistry between Hedges and Affleck is flawless and it is with applause to Hedges’ Patrick that we get some direly needed humour to break up the valium train ride to Lee’s hell.

There are a lot of smaller roles that are all superb but most notable Michelle Williams. Her scenes are pivotal and strong but hearing that “this is her best performance,” or “her career defining performance,” are somewhat insulting to her. She is great but she has less than 5mins screen time in the entire movie.


There are two scenes in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA that were perfection in filmmaking. The power of both of these scenes is in no dialogue, and master filmmaking from crew, actors, and most importantly, song. The first is the reveal scene, it goes for about 5mins (I am guessing) and will leave you devastated. The power is showing you what happened, in a somewhat flashback slightly slower speed with next to no words and powerful music from composer Lesley Barber. I was a blubbing mess.

The other scene is the church scene, the funeral for Lee’s brother and Patrick’s father. It is the first time Lee has seen Randi (Michelle Williams). She is apprehensive and from back in the scene she is studying Lee as she arrives. Patrick is looking at Lee, Lee is looking into the church. It again is done with no main dialogue but the skill in the emotion and delivery of this simple scene took my breath away.


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MANCHESTER BY THE SEE is one of the most harrowing tales of grief that has ever been made. It never relented and that is what I didn’t like. Movies these days constantly try for uber-realism. Directors don’t want happy endings anymore. Is it a sign of our times? I needed this to have a happy ending, I needed hope and I needed Lee to be on a path towards redemption. While MANCHESTER BY THE SEA left me frustrated and bereft I appreciate it for its sublime acting, beautiful cinematography, brilliant direction (from Kenneth Lonergan) and its study on grief.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.


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