Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor in this Boston housing complex, but he is none too popular with the residents thanks to his surly, uncommunicative personality that often rubs them up the wrong way. His boss tries to persuade him to apologise to the latest resident he has offended, even though he snapped at her because she was giving him an earful, but he refuses, and continues much as he had before. That is until he receives a telephone call with bad news from Manchester by the Sea, which is his hometown that he left behind some years before: his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has had a heart attack - he was a sufferer of a condition that meant it could happen at any time - and now Lee must reluctantly return to arrange his business...
Manchester by the Sea was significant in that it demonstrated how the streaming video services were making inroads not only with the movie distribution, but their production as well. Amazon had been investing in television series, but had branched out into feature films too, ones that were given cinema releases to drum up interest before their availability on their website to subscribers, one major motive for the customers to sign up to using them since you could get exclusive content that these companies were making essential to the home viewing experience. Amazon, unlike Netflix, could afford to give their product disc releases as well, and when this was nominated for Oscars, it felt as though there was a real shift in the movie landscape.
Maybe if this had gone straight onto Amazon's site and bypassed the cinemas it would not have garnered its acclaim at awards season (Affleck secured the Best Actor Oscar for his endeavours), so it could be that its fans were recognising a good film is a good film, no matter what its provenance, and the tastemakers were following suit. However, was this as good as it was cracked up to be? It came from Kenneth Lonergan, a director who was well-known for his troubles on his unwieldy previous effort Margaret after such a promising debut with family drama You Can Count on Me, so in some quarters the welcome Manchester was offered was as much compensation for his lost years as it was for the quality of the work itself.
Certainly, once the dust had settled, not everyone was on board with loving this production, as it was regarded by the naysayers as over two punishing hours of misery barely leavened by a sprinkling of humour, and the fact Affleck had won that Academy Award for doing more or less the same performance as he always gave, with few variations, was somewhat baffling. Not that he was a poor actor, he simply had a very narrow range, and Lee was such a closed off character - he barely gets any dialogue to tell us how he is feeling, and Affleck was giving little away - that time spent in his company became a trial well before the halfway mark. The reasons for this change are evident in the many flashbacks littered throughout that fill in his backstory: he used to have a happy family with wife Michelle Williams (second billed for around ten minutes of screen time), but it all went horribly wrong.
Wrong in a way that the locals of Manchester blamed him for, though it was a minor slip that had major consequences that could have happened to any one of them. This was why he moved away to Boston, and why he is so reluctant to return, though when he arrives he is told Joe has in fact died and now, as per the wishes in his will, Lee must see to looking after Joe's teenage son Patrick (Lucas Hedges), though the extent of that care is not something Lee was prepared for. It seems his brother decided for him that this would bring him back to the world once again after shunning humanity since the tragedy, though it is difficult to perceive any great benefits from the sparse amount of interaction we do see, as Lee is still shunned by most of the locals even at the end, and though there is a measure of contentment achieved by the conclusion, the impression was that he would never get over his mistake. All of this was delivered in a muted, downbeat style in every scene, and monotony set in early on, never lifting as the recognition of what a slog life can be weighed heavily. Despite its good points, a chore to sit through, sadly. Music by Lesley Barber.