Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Way Back

Ben Affleck is good in this mostly tough human drama which, despite a few surprises and subversions, proves so familiar that you just about could have written it yourself.

Nevertheless, co-scripter, co-producer and director Gavin O’Connor makes it tick in his second movie with Affleck after the far different (and altogether overrated) The Accountant.

O’Connor does tend to gravitate to stories of people in crises and transition, and this begins with Affleck’s Jack Cunningham grimly working at a construction site, sneaking beers, returning home to a lonely apartment and even drinking during his morning shower. Evidently he’s a serious alcoholic, and surely there’s a reason for that, but it’s kept off-camera for longer than expected, allowing us plenty of time to see Jack argue with his family, clash with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Angela (Janina Gavankar) and generally behave like a mean and messy jerk.

Jack is unexpectedly summoned to his alma mater and, of course, asked to become the replacement basketball coach for their struggling team, and he improbably accepts the position, primarily because if he didn’t then there would be no movie. It transpires that Jack was quite the basketball prodigy back in the 90s, but he threw it all away and, after fate served him yet another foul ball, he’s been hitting the bottle harder and harder.

Naturally he sets about really pushing the ill-disciplined lads, and teaching them about teamwork and self-respect and so on (and so on, and so on – hey, you know how this works). And some of them stand out, including unreliable Marcus (Melvin Gregg), skirt-chasing Kenny (Will Ropp) and shy Brandon (Brandon Wilson), who might even accept a sports scholarship, if his disapproving Dad Russ (T.K. Carter) ever lets him.

Originally titled The Has-Been during shooting (and was it changed to save Ben’s ego?), this is naturally intended to be inspiring and even (argh!) uplifting, but the path to redemption is especially rocky here, and we do feel Jack’s pain. But we also see what an arsehole he can be when smashed, so we feel everyone else’s too.

Reviewer Rating

The Way Back (M) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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