A moving character study in unresolved grief, Manchester by the Sea is not easy to watch but is a powerful example of a particular emotional catharsis unique to cinema. Kenneth Lonergan has only directed three films in 20 years, though I immediately loved his 2000 debut, the understated sibling drama You Can Count on Me. As that film demonstrated, his skill as a writer and as a director is drawing the audience into a space where we can understand and empathise with people making bad decisions and hurting others whilst trying their best. This occurs through both actions and dialogue, Lonergan’s writing reflecting people’s insular thought process, only realising the impact of their choice of words after they collide with other people. The stellar cast are uniformly excellent, though the script’s focus on Lee and his nephew does a slight disservice to the female characters. Nevertheless, as raw and emotional human drama, Manchester by the Sea is heartbreaking and beautiful.
“When you get a different vantage point, it changes your perspective.”
First Man should not be mistaken for a film about the Apollo programme; as its name suggests the biopic is focused solely on the contribution of Neil Armstrong, sidelining everyone else. The claustrophobic nature of spaceflight is realistically presented through tight shots that leave us gazing into Ryan Gosling’s eyes with a regularity that eventually becomes tedious (although some viewers may disagree with this assessment). This is combined with an interesting decision to shoot the moon landing with IMAX cameras. If seen in that format the larger screen is entirely unused outside of that 15 minute sequence. Although impressive, IMAX viewing for this alone is far from essential. Gosling’s portrayal is deliberately understated whilst Claire Foy delivers the film’s strongest emotional performance as Armstrong’s wife. The most surprising aspect is an effective exploration of traditional masculinity and the burden placed on men who are left unable to share their emotional pain, with resulting impact on their families. Ultimately First Man is overlong but satisfying.