- by Jeff Beck
Manchester by the Sea: Kenneth Lonergan’s Captivating Family Drama (Blu-ray)
Every once in a while, we get a film that I suppose you could classify as a “quiet drama,” one that doesn’t seek to impress with flashy special effects, production design, or supreme technical artistry, but rather one that takes the basics of a great screenplay and a top-notch ensemble to deliver a film that connects to the audience emotionally and has them enraptured from the first frame to the last. This year, that film was Kenneth Lonergan’s compelling family drama “Manchester by the Sea,” which was recently nominated for six Academy Awards and would easily be deserving of each one of them. The film has enjoyed nothing but solid acclaim since it premiered at Sundance over a year ago, and now that it’s finally making its way to Blu-ray, it’s time to see why everyone should be taking a look at this little film that’s been causing some massive waves in the awards arena.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor for several apartment complexes in the town of Quincy, Massachusetts. For him, one day is much like the next: shovel snow from the walkways, fix a leak, unclog a toilet, etc. One day, he gets a call that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is ill because of his heart condition, causing Lee to drop everything and drive to the hospital near his brother’s hometown of Manchester. However, by the time he arrives, Joe has died, leaving Lee to make the funeral arranges and to deliver the news to his brother’s teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Another shock comes during the reading of the will, where Joe has left instructions that Lee is to become Patrick’s guardian, a prospect that Lee finds impossible due to his situation in Quincy. In the meantime, while the details are being sorted out, Lee and Patrick rebuild their relationship and face loved ones from their past, leaving the possibilities of the future wide open.
Indeed, “Manchester by the Sea” is not the kind of film that’s going to knock your socks off when it comes to its production values (though its titular setting is absolutely gorgeous), for what this film truly stands on is its simple, compelling, and well-told story, laid out in Lonergan’s brilliant, Oscar-nominated screenplay. It’s a tale of a man who is content with his simple life, a life that gets turned upside-down with some very unexpected events. These events force him to consider drastic changes while facing the demons of his tragic past. Without going into too much detail, Lee suffered a devastating loss that he doesn’t appear to have ever forgiven himself for and is a key component as to why he has stayed away from Manchester for so long, but with his brother’s passing, all of these events bubble back to the surface, particularly when he comes face to face with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams).
There really isn’t enough praise that can be heaped upon Lonergan’s screenplay (and this is despite it having won a multitude of awards already). He encapsulates this family drama splendidly, giving us characters that are fully-formed, fleshed-out, and undeniable as living, breathing people. Of course, Lonergan’s Oscar-nominated direction plays a key role in creating this world as well, but as we all know, it begins with the writing, which takes this life-altering situation and makes it real. Because of this, it becomes one of the easiest films to slip into and not look away from for the full duration of its 137-minute runtime, which, again, is certainly no easy feat for a little drama like this.
The other side of its massive success lies in its marvelous, SAG-nominated ensemble, which includes Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, and Kyle Chandler. Everyone here is at the top of their game, delivering emotionally-powerful performances that only help to build upon Lonergan’s writing and turn these into actual people. Affleck is particular stunning as Lee Chandler, giving a quietly-subdued performance that builds as we learn more about his character, leaving us with an unforgettable portrayal of this tortured soul who is forced to deal with so much. The only other thing that can be said about this cast is that it’s no surprise at all that Affleck, Hedges, and Williams all earned individual Oscar nominations for their outstanding work. Without them, and the rest of the supporting cast, the film wouldn’t have reached the level of excellence that it does.
By the time the film is done, you feel like you’ve come to know these people, so much so that you want it to keep going so you can see what happens after the main events conclude. However, what we do get for these brief two hours and change is well beyond satisfying. Films like “Manchester by the Sea” don’t come around very often, and when they do, a lot of the time they’ll get lost in the sea of gigantic blockbusters and films with huge movie stars. They may get the awards, but they’ll still get ignored by the public, particularly those who want more action and excitement in their films. Hopefully, now that “Manchester by the Sea” has come to Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD, it will find an even larger audience than it did in theaters, for it’s truly a film that deserves to be seen by those who appreciate the finer works that cinema has to offer.
“Manchester by the Sea” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture does contain a very slight grain to it, but you really have to be looking for it to notice. Otherwise, it’s a fantastic picture that brings out the sheer beauty of its titular setting. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little bit on the soft side, but it’s nothing that a slight volume change won’t fix, resulting in a track that gives you the dialogue and score in excellent quality. Overall, the film has received very satisfying treatment, leaving little room for complaint.
A Conversation with Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan: A great commentary track that has the writer/director taking you through the making of the film and how it came about.
Emotional Lives: Making Manchester by the Sea (16 Minutes): An excellent featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the making of the film through interviews with writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, star Casey Affleck, producer Matt Damon, and many more.
Deleted Scenes (6 Minutes): Three brief deleted scenes that are interesting to watch, but don’t really add anything to the film.
“Manchester by the Sea” is a captivating family drama that pulls you into its little world through brilliant, Oscar-nominated writing and directing from Kenneth Lonergan and a top-notch ensemble that features a trio of Oscar-nominated performances from Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams. It’s rare that a small drama like this will keep you fully engaged throughout a runtime of over two hours, but with the intimate realism that Lonergan and his cast bring to the project, it becomes rather easy to get swept away in this unusual situation, turning it into one of the very best films of 2016.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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