Finding the Way Back

 

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Ben Affleck puts his own demons of alcoholism to rest in Gavin O’Connor’s muted snapshot of addiction.   

 
Finding the Way Back 

It only seems like yesterday when Ben Affleck reduced his body fat to 7.7 percent in order to play Batman - last seen in 2017's Justice League. Now he has replaced his abdominal six-pack with a sick-pack of brewskies – with a shot of vodka on the side. The actor has let himself go dramatically, although there’s still enough of the 6’4” Affleck in the hulk of this washed-up man that you can believe his Jack Cunningham was once an impressive force on the basketball court. Gavin O’Connor’s drama starts promisingly, with Jack working on a construction site in a run-down neighbourhood of California. Heavily tattooed and bearded, he is like any other blue collar figure on the San Pedro building complex. It’s when he leaves work to visit his local bar and then returns home to shower, still quaffing a beer, that alarm bells start to ring.

 

The title doesn’t promise much – the original moniker, The Has-Been, was perhaps better – and soon the film settles down to the formulaic tale of a promising young buck blighted by alcoholism. Then Jack gets a call from his old alma mater to step in as the basketball coach for a team of losers. The narrative trajectory is already carved in stone. Gavin O’Connor, whose directorial credits include Tumbleweeds, Warrior and, most recently, the superior action-thriller The Accountant – with Ben Affleck as an autistic anti-hero – is usually good value. Here, working from Brad Ingelsby's original screenplay, he sustains a note of realism and an agreeable aesthetic, while carefully circumnavigating the clichés of the material. Jack is drinking for a reason, and the exposition is kept at an agreeable remove, allowing us to work out for ourselves the demons behind Jack’s disappointing existence. Inevitably, his old passion for basketball revives a certain motivation to lead a decent life, but the less said about where this leads, the better. When his estranged wife, Angela, turns up in the form of Janina Gavankar, one wishes she wasn’t quite so beautiful. Nonetheless, there are some nice touches – such as when Jack tries to pluck up the courage to turn down the coaching gig, repeatedly putting a fresh beer to cool in the freezer.

 

Affleck, who has been blatantly honest about his own alcoholism, said he took the film as a form of therapy. He nicely understates the anguish that Jack is going through, while capturing the man’s passion on the basketball court. However, the film is more of a snapshot than a gripping narrative, leaving one to dread the predestined destruction of Jack’s addiction but not to genuinely care for his emotional redemption. Finding the Way Back is not as predictable as one may have feared, but it is lacking the calibre of drama that might have won it a larger audience.

 

Original title: The Way Back.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar, Glynn Turman, Melvin Gregg, Brandon Wilson, Will Ropp, Fernando Luis Vega, Charles Lott Jr, Ben Irving, Da'Vinchi, John Aylward, T.K. Carter, Dan Lauria.

 

Dir Gavin O'Connor, Pro Gordon Gray, Jennifer Todd, Gavin O'Connor and Ravi Mehta, Screenplay Brad Ingelsby, Ph Eduard Grau, Pro Des Keith P. Cunningham, Ed David Rosenbloom, Music Rob Simonsen, Costumes Cindy Evans.

 

Warner Bros. Pictures/Bron Creative/Mayhem Pictures/Film Tribe-Warner Bros Entertainment UK.

108 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 10 July 2020. Available on Premium Video On Demand. Cert. 15.