Manchester by the Sea

Dec 8, 2016

One of the best films of the year and a sure Oscar nomination for Casey Affleck.

Manchester by the Sea

Image courtesy of IMDb.

Grade: A

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me)

Screenplay: Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Michelle Williams (20th Century Women)

Rating: R

Runtime: 137 min.

by John DeSando

“I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it.” Lee (Casey Affleck)

The “it” of Ken Lonergan’s drama, Manchester by the Sea, should be many things in that Quincy, Mass., custodian’s life: the loss of two children, the loss of his brother, the loss of his temper, the accusatory glances at him on the street, to name a few of his challenges. Life goes on in little beats, like a serious Seinfeld where nothing happens because everything is happening.

Lee inherits his 16 year old nephew, Patrick (Lucas hedges), upon the death of Lee’s brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), and thus begins a phase of responsibility that will slowly show him to be a man of few words, much integrity, and a hair trigger temper. The small events like riding on a fishing boat or finding a way to buy a motor for the boat are small victories that bring light to an otherwise dim New England sky.

The interchanges between surly teen Patrick and somber Uncle Lee are some of the best of the year, a kind of screwball chatter both meaningful and mundane.  These two actors work off each other like lovers with the accompanying joys and sorrows. Likewise, when Lee and former wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), meet on the street, his Montgomery-Clift-like reticence and her Madonna-like passion are marvelous acting moments.

Lee’s alienation, like James Dean’s, finally transforms into an acceptance of his losses, which can be remedied if he stays in Manchester by the Sea and lets himself be loved. He has his start with a rocky but fruitful relationship with his nephew. 

Affleck is a sure bet for an Oscar nomination. And as for uncle and nephew, two characters who can speak at each other with machine-gun wit will find an immense reservoir of love in Manchester.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at