The Way Back    UK title: Finding the Way Back

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Way Back
dir Gavin O'Connor
scr Brad Ingelsby
prd Gordon Gray, Jennifer Todd, Gavin O'Connor, Ravi Mehta
with Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar, Glynn Turman, Melvin Gregg, Brandon Wilson, Will Ropp, Fernando Luis Vega, Charles Lott Jr, John Aylward, TK Carter
release US 6.Mar.20,
UK 24.Apr.20
20/US Warners 1h48

madrigal watkins turman

affleck with Da'Vinchi
An introspective drama about redemption, this film reunites Ben Affleck with The Accountant director Gavin O'Connor, who maintains a grim realism even though there's never a question about where the story is heading. A particularly beefy performance from Affleck creates a potent emotional resonance that more than makes up for the rather thin narrative. It's a low growl of a movie that connects on a visceral level.
A functioning alcoholic, Jack (Affleck) works in construction and fends off concerned criticism from his sister (Watkins) and ex-wife (Gavankar). Then he gets a call from the Catholic Los Angeles high school where he was a basketball star. He reluctantly agrees to coach the losing team, and slowly begins to understand the impact he has on the teen players. So as he starts to work with them individually, the team finally wins a game. But Jack's only hope is to deal with his deep-seated anger and stop alienating everyone who's trying to help him.
Jack has his first beer during his morning shower and never stops drinking all day, but he's only occasionally falling-down drunk. Instead, the film depicts him with exhausted resignation. Ingelsby's script quietly layers in a slow dawning of interest as Jack begins to connect with these teens. As usual, O'Connor resists flashy filmmaking, layering in understated drama that never tips over into sentimentality.

Affleck creates a vivid portrait of a man in crisis: puffy face, slurring speech, hot temper and oblivious to the fact that he needs help. It's a strong performance that reveals Jack's quiet, almost imperceptible shift from someone who barely exists to someone who cares. Side roles are much smaller, and for Madrigal (as Jack's assistant coach), Gavankar and Watkins fairly thankless. Although some younger actors create memorable characters: Wilson as the natural leader, Gregg as the one with attitude, Ropp with the swaggering comical relief.

There are few surprises in this script, including a few midpoint revelations that try to explain Jack's fall from grace. But things like grief and daddy issues are rather too obvious. Thankfully, the film is punctuated with a variety of emotional moments that resonate beyond the somewhat simplistic story structure. Yes, there are nail-biting pivotal music-swelling scenes here and there. But the strongest thing about the film is what's going on within Jack's soul. This may feel a bit tortured as the story moves along, but it's never simplified.

cert 15 themes, language 2.Apr.20

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