After enduring a six-year legal battle over 2011’s “Margaret,” writer/director Kenneth Lonergan was probably just happy to see his latest movie get a drama-free release, at least comparatively speaking. The subject of an intense bidding war earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, “Manchester by the Sea” will almost certainly go down as the most devastating, heart-wrenching drama of 2016. An incredibly moving, intimate and authentic story about a broken man who’s forced to confront his demons, “Manchester by the Sea” is the kind of movie that will absolutely wreck you emotionally, highlighted by an award-worthy performance from Casey Affleck that’s going to be difficult to beat come Oscars night.
Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, an unsociable handyman/janitor for an apartment complex in Boston who must return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea when his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies from a long-standing congenital heart problem. In addition to handling the funeral arrangements and other minutiae, Lee takes it upon himself to break the news to Joe’s 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), with whom he was once close to before a personal tragedy led him to flee the small fishing village for a life of solitude. But when Lee discovers that Joe has named him as Patrick’s sole guardian and custodian, it comes as a shock to both of them. Though Patrick would rather go live with his estranged mother (Gretchen Mol) than move away from his friends and established life in Manchester, Lee’s tragic past has made it impossible for him to remain in the town that has caused him so much pain.