Perhaps the most pertinent view on the value of art is the Romantic belief that art becomes more meaningful through expression – whether this be attitude, character and, for the most part, emotion. The more powerful pieces of cinema tend to elicit strong emotional responses through an appeal to the more evocative states of being, which is achieved through adherence to a strong script, powerful acting, and tactical directing. In surely one – if not the – frontrunners of 2016, Manchester by the Sea combines all three of these to create a poignant commentary on grief and the aftermath it leaves in its wake. To accurately depict the effects of this difficult emotion and to draw sympathy, understanding and attachment to the broken characters within the plot is the mark of a brilliant piece of art and it is in this respect that Manchester by the Sea is almost faultless.
That being said, you need to be in a certain mood for this film. It is an emotional and sometimes difficult watch in what is writer-director’s Kenneth Lonergan’s third and finest entry, after You Can Count on Me  and Margaret . In keeping with his thematic focus on the effects and difficult strains of life, he has perfected the art of drawing a strong response from the audience. It was this rawness of experience -which is entirely anti-Hollywood in sentiment – that left such a last impression. This is a film to observe acting at its finest and in its deepest form. Michelle Williams [Randi Chandler] showcases her range of acting skills and it is a shame her Oscar nomination did not materialise in to a win – you would think that her performance in one particularly heart wrenching scene near the end would almost be enough merit to give it to her. Lucas Hedges [Patrick Chandler] also stars as an up-and-coming talent capable of a strong performance alongside a Hollywood heavyweight.
This is surely what Casey Affleck has now become after Manchester by the Sea. Whilst controversial, Affleck’s Oscar could not be more richly deserved in his portrayal of a struggling handyman called Lee Chandler. The story begins with him and immediately we are presented a sense of the character’s self-inflicted agonist tendencies as he rejects the advances of several women in the opening scenes to choose the punishment of a drunken fight. Struggling to coexist with a harrowed past – which is revealed through a series of flashbacks throughout the film – it is a credit to the acting ability to be able to convey such a convincing sense of depression with the lacklustre commitment to dialogue the character gives. Shuffling, sighing and appearing almost robotic, it is clear that Chandler is broken and incapable of a life in the place that reminds him so much of his grief.
Returning to Manchester following the death of his brother, played by Kyle Chandler, Lee is presented with the unwanted adoption of his nephew, played by Hedges. In this character, Lonergan shows the reliance on those around you in times of grief – Patrick is presented as strong and able to deal with the loss of his father until left alone and unable to go visit one of his girlfriends. This is contrasted to Lee whom actively shies away from others and company, perhaps as a form of punishment. He rejects the opportunity of relationships throughout the movie, including an attempt of a re-connection from Randi, admitting to Patrick at the end that he cannot beat the grief.
The value of Manchester by the Sea is surely in its expose on life and grief itself, which is inherently complex and idiomatic. It goes against the grain of typical cinema and it is thanks to the powerful performances by the cast and Lonergan’s script that makes this such a must see film.