Lonergan’s marvelous You Can Count On Me (2000) was my second favorite film of that year, a lovely character study that introduced the world (or me, at least) to Mark Ruffalo. I haven’t seen 2011’s Margaret, in either its abridged or full-length form, but I’ve read great things.
Now Lonergan is back with Manchester by the Sea, the story of a troubled man (Casey Affleck) who returns home to look after his nephew following the death of his brother. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because the film’s impact is greater the less you know going in.
Lonergan excels at capturing authentic moments. Nothing here feels scripted. The movie screen may as well be a window into the actual lives of these characters. And he has assembled a magnificent cast, including Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol and Michelle Williams.
First among equals is Affleck, a fine actor who does his best work here as a man haunted by his past. It’s one of the most restrained performances I’ve ever seen, but he lets you see the emotion bubbling just under the surface. He may well become the second Oscar-winning Affleck brother in a couple of months.
Manchester by the Sea joins La La Land and Moonlight as leaders of the pack for Best Picture. I haven’t seen Moonlight (yet) but, given that my personal favorite film of 2016 has no chance at the top prize, I’m rooting for this one.