Casey Affleck turns in an award-worthy performance in writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s captivating Manchester by the Sea, a family drama set on the shores of Massachusetts, where audiences are taken through the emotional wringer in a tale that pulls no punches as it unravels.

Manchester follows handyman Lee Chandler (Affleck) as he copes with the loss of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and struggles with accepting his new responsibility as the legal guardian of his estranged nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

This is Lee’s story, weighed down by the sins of his past and distant in every sense of the word. He is piecing together his soul and a lost relationship with his family, as the things that once defined him become torn apart by illness, alcoholism, and tragedy.

The film is anchored by an outstanding performance from Affleck, who, along with a talented ensemble including Chandler, Michelle Williams, and Hedges, delivers a raw, emotionally-charged portrayal of a damaged soul, suffering and beleaguered by existential woes.

A strong decisive vision from Lonergan, who controls every element from the opening shot till the film fades to black, unapologetically shines a light on the fragility of the human state, and tackles it with a sincerity and gentleness that invigorates the structure of the clichéd family drama.

The razor-sharp dialogue peppered with dark humour adds a brutal honesty that shades and colours his characters to make them human.

At the TIFF premiere last Tuesday night, a necessary standing ovation greeted the main cast, who were in attendance with Lonergan and producers Kimberly Steward and Matt Damon.

Damon, who was originally set to star in Affleck’s role but bowed out due to scheduling conflicts, continued to praise Lonergan for creating an honest portrayal of suffering that is universally relatable.

Toronto native Lesley Barber’s bold score elevates the film overall, but particularly captivates during the dialogue-absent scenes. It drums up emotions and sets the perfect background music for the 135 minutes we venture through the small-town Massachusetts setting.

The true maestro of this symphony, however, is Lonergan. The orchestration in each scene acts like a movement, playing with emotion and structure, creating a masterpiece that is beautiful in its tragedy.

Manchester by the Sea is in theatres November 18.

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