I have read some good things about a lot of actors this Oscar season, but the one performance that’s blown me away is Casey Affleck in ‘Manchester By The Sea’. Nothing else this year has come close. In fact, there is a scene in this movie that allows him to give such a gut wrenching performance that it’s still seared in my brain after a month. And it’s really all in his reaction. Many actors can deliver the big speeches, but it takes someone special to tell you everything with their reaction.
Affleck does this mostly with his eyes. In a pivotal scene, Affleck’s character (Lee) finds himself in front of some police officers. He has just confessed to something he believes to be unforgivable and he expects to be punished, but he is not. When he hears that he can go it’s like a shot to the heart. His reaction and what quickly follows is one of the best scenes of the year. It’s also the moment where Affleck might have just one his first Oscar.
Yet, a great performance without a great movie would be hollow and meaningless. Luckily, this movie is easily one of this years best. Not just because of the Oscar worthy performances (Michelle Williams also deserves a nomination), but because of the almost impossibly real way the movie gives the audience every experience. It’s almost like director Kenneth Lonergan just followed Affleck around for a couple months of being this other person and filmed it in just the right way. Then he took the exact moments from each day that were needed to get across the essence of this man’s experience. It’s truly a stunning achievement.
The nine month period that the movie is trying to get across with such clarity is the period in Lee Chandler’s when he looses his brother and gains guardianship of his nephew. The film uses a series of expertly crafted flashbacks to provide a bit of illumination on the characters and everything that has lead up to this situation. Then, we watch the period play out between Lee and his nephew Patrick (an also Oscar Worthy Lucas Hedges) in what feels like real time. It is a most unique passenger side view into these characters lives.
There are also phenomenal supporting performances by Kyle Chandler as Lee’s brother and Michelle Williams as his ex wife. I have to especially give credit to Williams for a late sequence of pain that will likely be her clip at the Academy Awards. In this sequence, she expresses her long held regret to Lee and in turn grabs the audience by their hearts in a way you won’t soon forget. As a matter of fact, that’s the best way I can describe this film. It’s truly unforgettable. You may not want to watch it over and over again, but it will stay with you. Truly one of the best films of 2016!
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